Absolute Horizons

Act 4

“Here you go, honey,” Elaine says. She’s holding out a paper plate on which there are a few slices of turkey, a pile of mashed potatoes and green leafy things.  

John says a thank you and puts the plate on his lap. 

They’re in a hospital, and John is on an outpatient bed. John doesn’t need to be here, but Elaine had been adamant that he get checked out as thoroughly as possible, simply refusing to take no for an answer. Matt hadn’t been helpful at all, agreeing with his mother’s assessment that he need a look over ‘just in case’. 

That’s how they ended up here: a nurse poking at John’s head while he grumbles, Matt snickering to himself as he watches John being poked at, and Elaine going around feeding everyone in sight with as much of her Thanksgiving dinner as she and Lily were able to pack up and bring with them. 

“You got a little…” Matt says, gesturing. 

John wipes his chin. “Thanks. How’s Joseph taking it?” 

Matt turns to look. Joseph’s standing against the wall not too far away, eating from his own paper plate and not talking to anyone. 

“The bike’s a little messed up,” Matt says. “Yeah, I guess he’s upset. Not at you, though.” 

“Your apartment blew up,” John points out.  

Matt makes a face. “So not the same thing. My apartment was my sanctuary, his bike is just…” 

“I’m just saying,” John says.  

“Right. Right,” Matt sighs. He turns and walks a winding path towards Joseph, ultimately ending up leaning against the wall next to his brother. After a while, Matt says something, and another long while later, Joseph says something back. 

Leaving them to it, John turns his attention back to his food. Nearby, Elaine’s still feeding people and Lily’s enjoying herself well enough chatting up the police officer who’s supposed to be taking her statement.  

Then someone’s standing right next to John’s bed. He looks up. 

“Lucy.” To say that John’s surprised would be an understatement. 

“Hello,” she replies. She sits down next to him on the bed, and cranes her head to study the superficial scratches at the back of his neck. “Why am I not surprised that you’re incapable of having a normal holiday?” 

“Not my fault,” John says. “What are you doing here? How did you get here?” 

“Hitchhiked,” Lucy says, then laughs. “Kidding, I took a bus. I just really needed to get away, and this seemed like as good an idea as any. Called Matt to get directions… I guess he didn’t tell you.” 

“No, he didn’t,” John says, glancing at Matt, who’s still not-quite-talking with his brother on the other side of the room. 

“So what happened here?” Lucy says. “Matt wasn’t too rich on the details.” 

“Just some kids trying to steal Joseph’s motorcycle,” John says. He inclines his head. “That’s Joseph, Matt’s brother. And this is Elaine, Matt’s mother.” 

“Hello!” Elaine says, handing Lucy a plate filled with fresh servings. “I’m Elaine, Matt’s mom, nice to meet you. This is your daughter?” 

“Yes, I’m Lucy, thank you,” she says, using her free hand to shake Elaine’s. “Oh thank goodness, I’m starved.” 

“Poor dear, Lucy, is it? That’s a nice name,” Elaine says. “Do take seconds, there’s plenty more where that come from, don’t be shy. Although I think we’re running out of the salads, I should get Lily and see if we can do something about the…” She wanders off and out of hearing range. 

John moves down the bed a little, letting Lucy make herself comfortable in the space next to him. They eat in silence for a while, John basking in the unexpected warmth of the moment. 

“Not bad.” Lucy looks at her plate approvingly. “Might have even been worth that bus ticket.” 

“Did you call your mom?” John asks. 

“What? Oh – right. I called her on the way, yeah. I have to say that it sounds like Jack’s having a merry old time.” Lucy snickers.  

“As opposed to you, taking a bus ride out to the middle of nowhere just to get away from your—” 

“Don’t say it.” 

“—guy,” John finishes with a neutral word. “Sounds like I’m not the only one who can’t have a normal holiday.” 

Lucy makes a face at him. “Nice.” 

“Happy Thanksgiving.” John grins at her. 

Lucy’s still looking at him, but the expression is changing, curiosity and confusion leaking through the unexpected gentleness of her smile. “Dad, don’t get me wrong, but…” 


“You and Matt are pretty close now.” The sentence is a tentative statement.  

John shrugs, figuring that it would have to depend on her definition of close. “It’s not like I had anything else to do for the day.” 

“Well, I know, but…” Lucy chews on a piece of turkey. “I’m just being curious, I guess. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, it’s not like you know how to do anything like normal people.” 

The words aren’t hurtful, because they’re true. John shrugs. “I guess.” 

Matt drops by just then, a wide smile ready for Lucy. “Hey, stranger! Didn’t expect to see you in this neck of the woods.” 

“Don’t I know it,” Lucy says. “What did you blackmail my dad with to get him be your chauffeur? Come on, you can tell me.” 

“Actually, he offered,” Matt says, looking at John. “I tried to blackmail him not to come.” 

John, still a little buzzed from the adrenaline of the early evening, smiles right back. 

Next to him, Lucy freezes. “Oh god,” she whispers.  

“Lucy,” John says, stiffening right along with her. “Luce?” 

“I need to, excuse me, I’ll be—” Lucy’s off the bed and moving away from him. 

“Shit,” John says, and he gets down from the bed, too, food forgotten. 

A nurse makes a sound of protest at John’s movement but Matt’s on it, enabling John to chase after his daughter as she blazes a trail down the hallway. 

“Lucy!” John calls out.  

He corners her by a stairwell, getting a hand on her shoulder. She pushes it away and whirls to face him. 

“You’re—” Lucy breathes. Her eyes are so much like Holly’s. “You and Matt.” 

Shit. He really can’t lie to her. “Me and Matt.”  

John swallows, waiting for her to process and pass judgment. She’s looking at him, eyes softly wretched and shaking her head the way she does whenever John’s done something spectacularly stupid.  

“I can’t explain it, I can’t excuse it,” John says. “You’re right. I can’t do anything like normal people.” 

“Oh god, dad,” Lucy says. She puts her hand on her mouth and turns away. “Please tell me this isn’t a mid-life crisis thing.” 

“It isn’t,” John says firmly. He knows for sure, because he’s already had his mid-life crisis. Had it, drank through it, and come out the other side a little grizzlier and a lot balder. He knows what that looks like, and this isn’t it.  

This is something else. 

Lucy shakes her head again, the low whine from her lips a sound of disbelief. “You know what this means, don’t you? This means that you forfeit the right to comment on my love life ever again.” 

John frowns. “Hey, wait a minute—” 

“No, never again!” Lucy says, a stern finger in his face. “You don’t get to criticize anyone I date, even if I hook up with a middle-aged matron who runs a stripper bar in Canada!” 

John tries to find a loophole, but she’s right. He’d be the biggest fucking hypocrite there ever was. “Yeah, okay.” 

“You promise?” Lucy says. 

John grits his teeth. “Sure.” 

“Okay,” Lucy says. A reluctant smile breaks the hard line of her lips. “Geez, dad, I didn’t know you had it in you.” 

“I didn’t, either,” John admits. 

“Okay,” Lucy says, her voice softening further. She’s still shaking her head a little, but it’s not so bad. Suddenly she hits him in the arm. “Dad, I can’t believe you!” 

“I can’t believe me, either!” John says. 

Lucy’s lips are drawn in as she looks up at him, then her arms come out and take him into a hug. It isn’t that tight, but the breath is squeezed from John’s lungs anyway. “Oh, daddy,” she says. 

John hugs back, a part of him wondering whether her unpredictable moods come more from him or Holly. 

When Lucy pulls away and gazes up at him, her smile rings a soft alarm bell in John’s head because it’s the type usually accompanied by a request for a pony. “I did wonder a little, since I expected you to kick him out ages ago, but I didn’t think it would actually… Wow.” 

John clears his throat a little, suddenly uncomfortable with the attention. “Well, it’s not like I planned it—” 

“Of course not,” Lucy says kindly, linking her arms in his and tugging to get them walking. She squeezes his arm. “Oh, poor daddy.” 

“Lucy, quit it,” John says. “I think I like you better when you’re yelling at me.” 

“No, you don’t.” Lucy squeezes his arm again. 

“Okay, I don’t,” John concedes. “But could we… Could we just keep this just between us? I’m still…” 

“I know, I get it,” Lucy says. “C’mon, I’m still hungry.” 

Elaine makes a fuss when they get back, and John quickly apologizes for running off when he obviously doesn’t want to do anything to make his supposed injuries worse. He settles back on the outpatient bed and gets down to finishing his dinner.  

Lucy, despite her claim of still being hungry, leaves his side and heads straight for Matt. 

John gets a little twinge in his head, an apparent acknowledgement of the unholy weirdness of seeing his fully-knowing daughter walk right up to and throw an arm around Matt’s shoulders. Matt looks terrified (he normally looks like that around her anyway), but he allows himself to be pulled to a side where a soft conversation takes place. John decides not to watch. 

“More mashed potato, John?” Elaine says. 

John considers. “Yeah, fill ‘er up.”  

After a while Lucy returns to John’s side, picking up her own unfinished plate. Matt, doing a good job of looking calm and unruffled, follows close behind. 

“Better get s’more,” John says. “I think Elaine’s finally running out.” 

“This is my second Thanksgiving in a hospital, believe it or not,” Matt says, sitting in a nearby chair. “The first time was ‘cause I had to get my appendix removed, so you can imagine how lame that was.” 

Joseph, who has been moving towards them at the same time, pipes up, “Hey, I remember that. You asked mom to bring your jammies ‘cause you couldn’t sleep without them.” 

Thanks, Joseph,” Matt says. “See if we give you a ride now.”

  “Hey…” Joseph says awkwardly. 

“Oh right,” John says, remembering. “Your ride’s messed up.” 

“Yeah,” Joseph says. “I was thinking I’d just leave it at mom’s, then come back in a couple of days with my truck. I just need a lift back to my place, it’s on the way for you guys, I think…? If you don’t mind, of course.” 

“You’re paying for gas, Joey,” Elaine says.  

Joseph looks at his mom. “It’s on the way—” 

“Even so,” Elaine says. Then she turns to Matt, reaching out to pet his hair though he squirms from her touch. “Matt, honey, I can’t believe you still remember that appendicitis thing, that was a rotten year, wasn’t it? But we had all those leftovers, remember how long we got them to last? You couldn’t even eat anything that time. Would you really say this year’s is worse?” 

Matt’s face is a near-unreadable thing. “No. It’s better, definitely.” 

Lucy’s head is bent facing her plate, her lips are sucked in tight together like she can barely stop herself. If it were anyone else, John would’ve reached over and cuffed them. 

+ + + 

“I almost threw up,” Matt says.  

“Good thing you didn’t,” John says. “Elaine would’ve taken that pretty personally.” 

This is the first alone time they’ve had all day. They’re back in Matt’s temporary bedroom, packing up their things to head back home. As nice as it would be to spend another night in casa Elaine, Matt’s adamant that they quit while they’re ahead and skedaddle before the good cheer dries up again. John doesn’t mind either way. 

“What did Lucy say, anyway?” John asks. 

“Nothing much,” Matt says, voice going higher with faux nonchalance. “Fulfilled my traumatic experience quota for the day. You know, I could feel her eyes on me the whole time? Just watching? She was probably wondering how I managed to corrupt you.” 

You corrupted me?” John says.  

Matt’s smiling. “How about that, huh?” 

Lacking a snappy response, John just throws Matt’s shirt at him. Matt’s still smiling when he catches it and folds it down for packing. John likes this smile, and definitely likes that it’s back where it belongs. 

“I promise not to argue with Joseph in the car, how’s that?” Matt says. 

“Worked out a truce, did you?” 

“Eh,” Matt shrugs. “Or something. He’s just… Well, he’s my kid brother. I love him, but damn he can be an annoying little asshole sometimes.” 


“I didn’t mean that.” Matt leans against the edge of the bed, eyes lowered and expression older somehow. “I got it wrong. After dad died, I just… I tried, and I got it wrong. Pushed him away. So I really can’t blame him for being pissed at me.” 

“He’s not pissed at you,” John says. “He’s worried that you hate him.” 

Matt frowns. “What? No, never.” 

“Then tell him.” John sighs, gaze going elsewhere because he can’t look at Matt while he says this aloud. “I spent a long time hating my dad. There was a thing, and we didn’t talk even after I heard that he got sick. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought it was him making an excuse. I’ve got a lot of regrets, Matt, you know that. So take it from someone who’s played the asshole gig for a long time… It sucks balls.” 

John’s still looking away, waiting for Matt to fill up the sudden silence in the room. But he doesn’t, and John has to drag his eyes up to look at him.  

This is what Matt looks like when he’s run out of words. He’s just looking at John, breathing steadily, eyes almost peaceful. When his mouth curves upwards a little, John has to turn away again. 

Suddenly there’s knock at the door, and Lucy’s head appears round the edge. “Oh good, you aren’t making out.” 

“Dude, so not funny,” Matt says, because this is still his mother’s house. 

“Relax, your mom’s outside making sure your brother doesn’t mess up the car,” Lucy says. “I’m just checking that you guys are ready to go.” 

“Yeah, we’re cool,” Matt says.  

They bring their luggage out together to where John’s car is ready. Standing right next to it is Elaine, who is busy wrapping a scarf around Joseph’s neck. When Matt approaches, she gives him a big smooch and runs her fingers through his hair. “Behave yourself,” she says. 

Lucy’s making that lemon face again as she watches, and John just knows she’s going to mock Matt for it later.  

While the others load the bags, Elaine pulls John aside.  

“You will watch out for Matt, won’t you?” she says, thankfully soft enough so the others won’t hear. “Not that I don’t think he can’t take care of himself – of course he can – but you know what it’s like, I just worry, and maybe you can help him find a nice girl somewhere, not that I want to pressure him or anything, but it would be nice. It’s been a pleasure having you join us.” 

“Thank you,” John says, with the straightest face he can manage. 

They get in the car, making it the first time John’s sat in the back. He can drive, but Elaine’s taken the doctor’s advice to heart and demanded that John rest. Matt doesn’t have a valid driver’s license and there’s no way John’s letting Joseph drive, so that leaves Lucy at the wheel. 

“’Kay, here we go,” Lucy says, pulling out.  

Next to John, Matt lifts his feet off the floor and slides them on to John’s lap. “My knee hurts. Must be the cold.” 

John rolls his eyes, but he helps take off Matt’s shoes and toss them to the floor. He tries to relax, moving his head against the cushion to find a comfortable position while at the same time careful to keep his hands firm on Matt’s ankles. Lucy’s not bad at the wheel but John’s a stubborn backseat driver and needs to not pay attention right now. 

Soon enough John’s drifting, body more than ready to sleep off all that turkey. 

+ + + 

John wakes up with a jolt. 

It’s nighttime outside the windows, Matt’s feet are no longer in his lap, and someone’s shouting. 

“—for that!” It’s Lucy. 

“Whoa, Lucy,” Matt says, leaning forward to touch her shoulder. “It’s really no big—” 

“Yes, it is!” Lucy says. 

John rubs his face and mutters, “What did I miss?” 

“Um.” Matt looks worried. 

“Are you sleeping with my brother?” Joseph demands, turning in his seat to look at John.  

It’s hard to make out his full face in the dim lighting, but John gets the gist of the expression he’s going for. Unfortunately, John’s not 100% awake. “What? Where’d that come from?” 

“Joseph,” Matt says, sounding angry again. “You have the stupidest—” 

“And you brought him home?” Joseph says. “You brought him to mom? Well done, Matt—” 

“Dad, you so should’ve just let his precious bike get stolen,” Lucy says. “Don’t you feel stupid, now?” 

“I’m not saying I’m not grateful—” Joseph says. 

“So it’s only okay if he does something for you, then?” Matt says. “You were being real buddy-buddy then, but it’s only cool when you say it is?” 

“Is this some kind of sugar daddy thing?” Joseph sounds horrified. 

What? No!” Matt says.  

“Because if it is, you know I’ve got to tell mom,” Joseph says. “Fucking hell, no wonder you’re all, like, puppy-leashed and—” 

“Fuck you, Joseph Farrell!” Lucy shouts, her voice a thunderclap in the car. “Your brother’s the one who has my father pussy-whipped, that’s what it is! He came all the way out here for him! He’s allergic to trees! And hates holidays!” 

Joseph says, “Your dad’s not exactly a piece of—” 

“You stop right there or you’re going to get my foot in your throat,” Lucy says, and it’s strange for John to hear that voice being used on someone who’s not him. “My dad is ten times the man you wish you could dream of being, you have no fucking clue. Matt’s lucky to have him. So fuck you, and fuck your bike, and fuck your fucking technicolor fuckcoat.” 

John kinda wants to pipe up that she didn’t learn that from him, but he knows no one would believe that. 

Joseph says, “I don’t think—” 

“Yes, don’t think,” Lucy snaps. “You all right back there, dad?” 

John clears his throat, feeling oddly like he’s intruding on their discussion. “A-okay, Luce.” 

“Good,” Lucy says. Then she reaches over and yanks the radio knob, turning the music way up high. Luckily it’s set at a station John doesn’t mind. 

The next couple of minutes are tense. Joseph’s sitting ramrod straight, Lucy’s making faces to herself, and John still feels a little bit like he’s dreaming. 

John feels something nudging his knee: it’s Matt, pushing his black palmtop into John’s hands. He has to squint to make out the text. 

u ok? 

John’s forefinger feels like a demolition ball when it hits the small keys to type: slept wron neck hurts like a botch 

Matt’s fingers go fast on the keyboard. sorry bout jos. not sure what happened 

John goes: not big deal 

Reading that, Matt looks up at him, incredulous.  

John just shrugs, because it isn’t. If anything, it’s annoying, because John likes his business to remain his own, but he can count on one hand the people whose opinions matter to him and Joseph isn’t among them. That makes him not of concern, naturally. What is of concern is the way Matt’s looking at John right now, all curious and wondering. 

If John’s not careful, soon Matt’ll be able to write the damn book on him, and then where would they be? 

John leans his head back and shuts his eyes. 

+ + + 

They drop Joseph off with little trouble. 

John takes the opportunity to stretch his legs while Matt and Joseph figure out a workable goodbye just out of earshot. Lucy joins John in leaning against the car, hands in her jacket pockets and head tilted upward to the sky. 

“I’ll drive from here on,” John says. 

“Okay,” Lucy says. She huffs a little and shakes her head.  “Can you believe that guy?” 

“He’s just concerned about his brother,” John says, shrugging. “He does have a point, and you know it.” 

“Please stop being reasonable,” Lucy says. “I can barely recognize you.” 

“Can’t help it,” John says somberly. “Matt’s been drugging my drinking water.” 

“Gross,” Lucy says, making a face. John doesn’t know why; the joke wasn’t that bad. 

When Joseph approaches them, John adjusts his body language. The younger Farrell looks a little sheepish, and sticks his hand out. “I’m sorry about running my mouth off there. Not my place.” 

John shakes the hand. He did pretty much the same thing (and worse) when his sister got together with that Texan dickhead, but he’s not about to shout it from the rooftops. 

“Uh,” Joseph says, turning to Lucy. “Yeah.” 

In John’s head, a different set of alarm bells go off. He recognizes this look, because he’s knocked it out of enough young punks in his time. He opens his mouth to speak, but Matt’s hand is on his arm – the touch is sudden and distracting. 

“Run along now,” Lucy says dismissively. 

“I apologize, it was wrong of me to say what I did,” Joseph says. 

“Yes, it was,” Lucy says.  

“Okay,” Joseph says. He looks he wants to say more, but he can’t ignore the way John’s staring holes into the side of his head.  

John only watches Joseph walk away, waiting until he’s entered the building before he turns to Lucy. But before he can speak, she’s tossed the car keys in the air and he has to catch them. 

“You’re driving,” Lucy says, and she’s turned away, walking around the car to ride shotgun. 

“Did you see that?” John says to Matt. 

“See what?” Matt says, opening the backdoor. 

“Your brother,” John hisses. “Did you see the way he—” 

“John,” Matt says slowly, reaching out and tugging the lapel of his jacket. This open touch – just as new as the other one – pulls John’s thoughts in a completely different direction. “Let’s just go.” 

“Okay,” John says, getting into the driver’s seat. He starts the engine and pulls out, stealing glances at Lucy’s blank face when he can.  

“Hey,” Matt says, passing a cool can of something against John’s shoulder.  

John takes it with a nod of gratitude, snapping the can open as he drives. “That’d be really messed up.” 

“What, Powerade?” Matt says. “I know, but it was the only one I could find enough of—” 

“Not talking to you,” John says. “He didn’t slip you his number, did he?” 

“Dad,” Lucy says, yawning. “You promised.” 

“But that would be—” 

Promised,” Lucy says, a little more firmly this time. 

John grits his teeth and curses softly. “Fine. Go to sleep.” 

“Will do,” Lucy murmurs, already halfway there. 

In the backseat, Matt chuckles to himself. Maybe Matt’s funny bone is broken, too, because there’s really nothing funny about this. 

+ + + 

It’s nice while Lucy sleeps. John glances at her once in a while, amazed at how different she looks with all the lines of her eyes at rest. Matt sleeps for a while, too, but when he wakes up, he pops out another can and starts typing softly on his palmtop. 

The radio is off, the car is quiet, and the highway is stretching on seemingly to forever. 

Something warm is settling in John’s chest. 

It’s probably the gradual realization that he somehow managed to make it through the past couple of days without fucking things up badly.  

Whaddya know. 

“How did you guys get together?” Lucy says suddenly. 

John jerks with surprise. He turns briefly to give Lucy a slanted look. 

She’s slouched in the seat, eyes a little sleepy but her expression unapologetic. Then she moves, bringing her knees up to her chest in the tight space – it unexpectedly throws John back to a similar conversation of years earlier when her hair was shorter and her conversation skills less likely to make him wince. 

“I don’t know,” John says. 

“Liar,” Lucy says. 

John glances at the rearview mirror. Matt just looks back at him, guileless and unwilling to come to his rescue. 

“It just happened,” John says. “Can we not talk about it?” 

“I thought you liked talking about… Never mind,” Lucy trails off.  

John glances at her briefly, but Lucy’s turned her face away to the window. Her body language has barely changed but John can see it; there’s not a lot that can make Lucy uncomfortable, but when it happens, it’s clear as day. 

“Matt threw himself at me,” John says. 

“I did not!” Matt says, head moving up to the space between John and Lucy. “There was no throwing involved. I think?” 

“No throwing,” John says, nodding, though it’s still hurting his head a little that they’re talking about this. 

“Look, I don’t want to know the details,” Lucy says. “But who made the first move?” 

John thinks. He can hear Matt thinking, too. 

“He did,” Matt says just as John says, “Matt.” 

Lucy bursts out laughing. “Way to get your story straight.” 

“Can I veto this topic now?” John says. 

“Why?” Lucy says. “You’re the one who’s always saying we got to talk more. So we’re talking.” 

“Dude, you’re so cute when you’re squirmy,” Matt says, and tugs John’s ear.

Ugh,” Lucy says. “You’re right, let’s not talk about this.” 

There’s silence while John gets off the highway. 

“But how did…” Lucy starts again. “Surely there must have been a trigger, right? This doesn’t come out of nowhere. There must’ve been something.” 

“A whole lot of nothings,” John says, surprising himself. “End up something.” 

“Deep,” Matt says with a laugh. 

“So not helpful,” Lucy says. “I’m just trying to… Okay. Sometimes I get attracted to someone from the get-go—” 

“Hey,” John says. 

“Dad, please,” Lucy says. “But sometimes I don’t, but we become friends, spend time together, but then something happens and it becomes… more. Do you know what I’m trying to say?” 

“No,” John says, but he does. He knows exactly when that happened with Matt, but he sure as hell isn’t bringing it up now. 

“Whatever,” Lucy says, slumping in her seat. 

“It was after John told me about Nakatomi and Dulles,” Matt says. “For me, anyway.”

“What?” John says, surprised. “That?” 

“Yeah,” Matt says, sounding sheepish. “No, not like that – it wasn’t a hero worship thing. It was just… You didn’t have to share, but you did.” 

“Oh,” John says.  

Lucy clears her throat. “I have just one more question…” 

John glances at the signboards.  

There’s only a couple of miles to go; he can make it. 

+ + + 

John doesn’t have much love for his two-bedroom apartment, but it is a relief to get back there when they do. He tosses their bags aside, figuring he can sort through them later. 

“Hey, is this yours?” Matt says. 

John sees Matt holding up something that looks like a hairclip. “Looks like Lucy’s.” 

“Okay, letting her know,” Matt says, going off to doohickey a message her way.  

John makes a zombie beeline for the bedroom. He’s not that tired (it does take a lot to tire him out) but sometimes his age creeps up with an unexpected whammy, and this is one of those times. John falls on the bed face first and shuts his eyes. 

He can hear Matt enter the room, go through their bags, undress and then get into the shower. 

John just drifts. There’s nowhere he needs to be and nothing he needs to do, except maybe answer the buzzing on his hip. 

John grunts, getting the cell out from his pocket and up to his ear. “Yeah?” 

Oh, um… Bad time?” It’s Jack. 

“No, no,” John says. “If you can’t call during high noon, when can you call?” 

Uh, yeah… So, Happy Thanksgiving?” 

“Back at ya, kid,” John says. “Hope you had a good one.” 

Was okay,” Jack says.  

They talk. Or mostly Jack talks, reporting on Holly and the extended family that isn’t John’s anymore. The words are nice but the tone is nicer, and John lets himself float on that for a while. 

Actually, there is something…” Jack says. 

“Shoot,” John says. 

Do you think I could – maybe – spend Christmas at your place?” 

“Sure,” John says, because it’s Jack, and he doesn’t turn his kids down. “But ask your mother first. If she’s not cool with it, I’m not cool with it.” 

Okay, I’ll ask,” Jack says.  

The bathroom door opens and there’s the sound of Matt walking, his damp feet noisy where they move on the floor. It’s a sudden reminder of Matt’s presence, a surprising snap to John’s chest. 

Luckily, that’s when Jack says, “Hey, I gotta go… Mom says hi, by the way.” 

“Sure, no problem, and hi back,” John says. “Nice of you to call.” 

It’s what I do,” Jack says. “See ya.”  

John hangs up. “Shit!”  

The mattress bends a little where Matt sits on it. “What?” 

“Jack just asked if he could come over for Christmas.” 

“Really?” Matt says, sounding way more excited than he should be. “Awesome! I get to break in the new oven.” 

John really doesn’t want to move, but he forces his head to turn and look at Matt. “What?” 

“It’ll be exciting!” Matt says. “Shit, I’ll have to do a load of research and trial runs. You won’t mind, though, will you? Need to look up sources and—” 

“What?” John says again. “You want him to spend Christmas here?” 

“Why not?” Matt says, confused. “Did you sleepwalk through yesterday?” 

“That’s different,” John says. 

“How is it different?” 

“I don’t know,” John says stubbornly. “It is.” 

“Oh-oh-oh! We could invite Lucy, too!” 

“She’ll be with Holly.” 

“Oh,” Matt says, a little crestfallen. “But it’ll be awesome anyway, you’ll see. Oh wow, we’ll need to look for a tree and get decorations, although we can get most of those second-hand anyway and – what, why are you looking at me like that, what?” 

It’s occurred to John that the thing that was off about Matt the past few days has gone. This is Matt, relaxed and at home. 

“Nothing,” John says. 

“This isn’t about your issues with the C-word, is it?” Matt says, narrowing his eyes. “Come on, don’t be such a fucking chicken shit, John. How about we call the ‘Winter Solstice’, you know, if that trips your psychological buttons and makes you feel better?” 

“I don’t have issues with Christmas,” John says, rolling his eyes. “That was years ago.” 

“Then we’re settled!” Matt says cheerfully. That grin really has no business being that wide. Suddenly it turns into a frown. “Come on, your neck’s bugging you, right? Let me.” 

John’s still not in the mood to move, so he lets Matt pull off his shirt and adjust him on the bed. Matt climbs on top of him without any sort of finesse – he isn’t that heavy, but it’s not like John can support him with his spine. “Watch it.” 

“Sorry, sorry,” Matt says, quickly moving to sit comfortably across John’s lower hips while his hands arrive on John’s shoulders. To John’s surprise the hands do mean business, finding and pressing against muscles that crave the extra pressure. He hums approvingly. 

Matt has clever fingers, it seems. John’s never wondered if computer geeks have strong fingers; he doesn’t know whether Matt’s the norm or an anomaly, but he’s finding John’s pressure points easily, alternating between fingers and knuckles as he presses and soothes. 

Programmer’s fingers. Matt’s been programming John from the inside out while he wasn’t looking. That has to be it, and it’s completely John’s fault. 

But how was John supposed to know? It wasn’t supposed to be hard. He was just gonna let the kid hang out in his place ‘til he found somewhere new. It’s not like he was supposed to be there long, and it was the least John could do after all the kid’s been through. No harm, no foul, what could possibly happen? 

Great going, genius

Matt’s supposed to be long gone by now, living his own irrelevant life elsewhere. Instead, he’s sitting on top of John, kneading his shoulders into putty. 

“You were yelling at me,” John says. It’s easier to say it like this, with his eyes shut and face pressed against the sheets. 

“Hmm, what?” Matt says. 

“It was after you fell in the shower,” John says. “And you yelled at me. Called me out, threw the hero worship thing back at me. There was something in your face, it was just… I don’t know. That was the start.” 

The fingers pause briefly, then get back to work. 

“Okay,” Matt says. “Thank you.” 

John knows Matt’s thinking about the space between that incident and the day they finally did something about it. John had needed that space. 

Nothing’s ever come easy to John, who’s watched everything worth the postcard ripped away from him twice over, so why would life suddenly decide to break the pattern? Fate loves its fucking curve balls, and everything that Matt is makes John’s life complicated. Of course he had to go and fall for someone so completely out of his comfort zone.  

Maybe that’s what makes this what he deserves, and somewhere down the line, why it feels right. 

“I guess it won’t be a big deal to have Jack here for Christmas,” John says. “But don’t poison him.” 

“I’m a good cook, dammit,” Matt says, pinching John. 


“It’ll be nice,” Matt says, voice a little softer. 

He really wants it, John realizes. Matt actually wants to have Jack over for Christmas.  

“No tree,” John says.  

“Oh, right,” Matt says wryly. “Someone’s allergic.” 

John grunts. His shoulders are already feeling better, but he’s not going to say so, in case Matt stops. 

“You know…” Matt says, voice going even softer. “I didn’t want to leave my mom. I know it looks bad, that I went away after Joseph did, but I didn’t intend to abandon her. I’d just… I’d never had my own life before. Maybe that’s a little bit of why I didn’t want to talk about it with you… I’m not that good a person, either.” 

“Nothing’s that straightforward,” John says. 

“I guess,” Matt says. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s a long, complicated story.” 

John shrugs a little. “I’m not going anywhere.” 

Matt’s finger stop, and the weight shifts until John feels Matt’s breath on the back of his neck. “How about that.” 

There’s a story thread there, and John will leap on it now that it has been offered. But as of right this minute, John can’t ignore the urgent press of how much Matt’s enjoying himself. 

“Or we can talk about it later,” John says. 

“We could do that,” Matt says. 

John pushes back a little. “Matt, you can…” 

“Hmm,” Matt says. He does move, but not in the way John expects. His weight comes up off John’s lower back and his knees arrive on the back of John’s thighs – it doesn’t hurt, but it has a slight promise of pain. Matt’s doing a stellar job of using John’s body as a surfboard, testing his weight and moving a little to find his balance.  

He’s breathing so quietly that John has the strangest urge to ask if he has permission to move. 

One of Matt’s hands moves up John’s neck to his head, fingers trailing the shape of his skull and tips running across stubborn hairs. The touch is curious and light, and John recognizes vaguely that Matt hasn’t done this before – taken his time to stop and smell the roses. 

There’s nothing immediately sensual about Matt’s fingers as they run across John’s skin but these nerves haven’t met anything gentle in long a while. Matt just keeps on going, following the contours while he breathes heavily. 

“I can’t believe you’re letting me do this,” Matt whispers. 

John grunts, because he can’t believe it either.  

Then Matt’s gone, scrambling over the mattress to the side table with an eagerness that’s familiar. John helps move things along by reaching down and undoing his pants, but Matt has to follow up from there and pull the rest of it off. 

Then the flesh and blood paperweight is back, Matt’s knuckles pressing a pathway down John’s back. John doesn’t make a sound of protest when the fingers find his opening and start working it. 

Another new thing to the dossier. John’s a big boy; he can take it.  

Except for the part where Matt’s being overly cautious again, because it’s not like John would deny him this. Sure, he hasn’t offered so far, but that’s because he’s an old dog not keen on learning new tricks – though there always exceptions. Matt Farrell is one big Exception. 

“Here’s a question for you, Matt,” John says. 

“What?” Matt says.  

“On a scale of one to ten, how unbreakable do you think I am?” John says. 

“Thirteen,” Matt says promptly. 

“Then what the hell are you doing?” John says, and he pushes back against Matt’s fingers. 

“I don’t know,” Matt says, though his laugh is a little distracted.  

His weight returns, and John focuses on that instead of the steady burn down below that he doesn’t want to think too much about. John just does things, deep thinking optional, and he can do this for Matt.  

Matt moves again, hands on John’s hips and a brand new arrival in the form of a press against his opening. 

Big boy; can do this. 

John expects the curse in his chest. He expects the pain, braces against it, bites his teeth through it. 

What he doesn’t expect is the sudden vocal calisthenics from Matt.  

Considering how much Matt talks, this says a lot. 

Oh my holy fuck!” Matt says, the only recognizable words in the stream of noise coming out of his mouth. He inhales, making a wheezing sound when he does. 

John’s laughing against the sheets, body shaking despite himself and the massive fucking burn of invasion. Matt garbles some more as he tentatively pushes further and opens John up. John just breathes steadily in an attempt to keep his lungs from collapsing. 

“Shit – shit – oh shit,” Matt mutters. 

“Breathe, Matt,” John says. 

“I’m going to have a heart attack and die,” Matt says hoarsely. “I’m going to have a heart attack and I’m going to die, that’s what I’m going to do.” 

“Or you could just breathe.” 

“Or I could just breathe,” Matt says. He does. 

After a while it gets okay. Bits of John are moving around, getting used to Matt making himself at home. Matt notices it, too, and starts thrusting a little, smoothing out the movement and sliding in deep. A few more generous slides makes things even easier, but then Matt pulls out completely. 

John winces. “What?” 

“Turn over,” Matt says, fingers tapping at his waist. “C’mon, turn over.” 

John turns over. Matt moves quickly, pushing a pillow under John’s hips and lifting his knees over his shoulders. John exhales softly in wait for Matt to get things going again. 

“Hey,” Matt says, fingers tapping on John’s thighs. “Open them. Look at me.” 

John forces his eyes open.  

Matt’s face lights up with another bright smile. “Keep ‘em here.” 

Then he’s pushing right in, eyes locked on John’s, and it’s— 

Yeah, it’s different.  

“One day you’re going to want this,” Matt promises, thrusting steadily. “You’re going to want this, and you’re going to beg me for it. I’m going to make you.” 

John believes Matt could do it. It wouldn’t take a lot, and Matt does so love pushing John’s boundaries. 

“I said look at me, John,” Matt says, a little more strongly this time. 

He’s trying, but it’s a challenge. Matt’s eyes are difficult to look into when he’s like this; John never knows how much he’s giving away – if he’s already given it away without realizing it. It gets even harder to obey when Matt moves deliberately, changing the angle and trying to find that little bit where— 

John shudders. “Fuck!” 

Matt laughs, and does it again. 

It’s good. Matt’s making it good for John, fingers deftly working John’s cock just the way he likes with tightness along the shaft and a little messing around the head. And while he’s tugging that, he’s pounding the hell out of John – like there’s nothing to be afraid of, like John isn’t going to say no, or kick him out, or any of that shit, because he’s letting him do this

John comes, and it’s different.

Well, obviously it’s different, there’s a dick in his ass. It’s moved all the sensations around, finding new nerves to pull tight to screaming. 

So John’s arching his back, cursing to the high heavens and coming like he just learned how.

It eventually passes and John comes back down feeling dazed like he’s been hit by a truck. Wait, no – he actually has been hit by a truck and it’s not like that – this may involve a lot less blood but damn if it’s not a greater shock to the system. 

John opens his eyes again, and Matt’s still looking straight at him, the stupidest fucking grin on his face. 

Well, shit

Matt starts thrusting again, hips working in earnest against John as he gets closer to the edge. John can’t really do much right now, what with his being all hung out to dry. 

“Jesus, fuck, yeah,” Matt groans, tossing his head back. He shudders, letting out one last long groan that seems to go on forever. 

When he’s done he slumps forward, head dipping while he gasps for breath. 

Then he head shifts, his eyes peeking out from beneath sweaty bangs to look right at John. He giggles. 

John opens his mouth to rebuke him, but all he can manage is a pathetic, “Guh.” 

Matt pulls out, setting John’s legs gently back down the mattress – John winces, there’s no way around that – and gets rid of the condom before he scoots up the bed for a kiss. The softness of his mouth is a sharp contrast with how he was just fucking John silly a couple of moments ago.  

“Should’ve seen your face,” Matt giggles against John’s stubbly cheek. 

“Thanks,” John mutters, knocking the back of Matt’s head gently with a knuckle. 

Man, John’s screwed, and not just in the literal sense.  

Okay, so he doesn’t mind that much, but he has no point of reference for this, no fucking idea what’s supposed to happen next.  

Improvise, it is, then.



Act 3 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Live Free or Die Hard ~~~~~~~~         


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