Happiness is a Warm K-9

This is the street where John lives.
There’s a little bench, under a yellow street lamp in a fifteen-foot patch of green calling itself a ‘park’. It’s their last stop of the night, and John impatiently watches his new partner sniffing around the pool of light under the lamp post. He wants to get home to Matt. That’s nothing new, but tonight he’s got a surprise for him. It’s been so long since John felt like this about something, it takes him a while to figure out what the feeling is. Excited, that’s the word. Matt is gonna love this.
His partner pauses in the search for whatever he’s been looking for in the grass, and turns to give John a questioning look. John nods resignedly and goes for the Nicorette. They might be here a while.
And there’s the house

on the street where John lives.

Matt must’ve heard the car in the drive, because he was at the door before John could get his keys out, too deep into turbo-babble mode to notice they weren’t alone on the porch.
"Hey! You’re home. I’ve been meaning to ask you where you keep your power tools. I mean, I know you must have some, you’re a Mike Holmes type of guy. And yes, I’m acutely aware that I’m not, so no worries I’m not planning any crazy renovations, I just need a drill to get the housing off my sys unit so I can install – whoa!" Matt was pointing at John’s new partner, and waving his other hand around urgently. "Whoa! Jesus, McClane, there’s a dog behind you!"
These days, Matt only reverted back to calling him ‘McClane’ in times of stress or fits of sarcasm. Which was most of the time, really, for Matt. But this reaction, John had not been expecting.
"Seriously, it’s right on the porch! You’re just gonna stand there? Get in here and close the door before it – whoa! Oh god."
The puppy rushed enthusiastically forward, and Matt jumped to the side, putting John between them.
"Calm down. He just wants to sniff ya."
"He? Whoa, WHOA!" Matt exclaimed, as the puppy made a renewed attempt to reach him and put its paws up on his knees. John reined him in a bit more.
"Okay. You - you’re holding the leash. Why do you have a leash? Why do you have a dog, on a leash, on our porch? Oh shit!" Matt said, but all the little guy had done as far as John could see was open its mouth and let its huge tongue loll out happily. 
"McClane, seriously. Don’t let it touch me." Matt had a death grip on John’s sleeve, torn between trying to cling to him for protection and push the dog as far away from himself as he could. 
This should have been really fuckin’ funny. John should have let a little more slack into the lead and enjoyed watching the ensuing drooling and flailing. But he was too damn busy being just plain disappointed.
"You’re afraid of dogs."
"Hell yes, I’m afraid of – do you know that dogs can have a jaw strength of up to eight hundred pounds of pressure per square inch? Four point seven million people are bitten each year in the US alone, John. That’s like, a million, but times four point seven. Oh my fucking – look at its teeth!"
John could have pointed out that the only one here who had ever bitten anyone - and drawn blood, dammit - was Matt. But he just sighed, instead. What the hell was he going to do now?
Sometimes he swore there was something wrong with Farrell. Boys were supposed to love dogs. Alright, Matt was a grown up and John really had to either stop thinking of him as a kid or stop letting Matt fuck his brains out every night, and most mornings – but there were times when the fucked-up combination of neglect and over-sheltering that was Matt’s upbringing really caught John off guard. Matt was supposed to be happy about this. John wasn’t so jazzed about it himself, to be frank. But at this point he didn’t have much of a choice.
"You’re bringing it inside? Seriously? Can’t you just tie it up in the yard or something? John. John, seriously."
"Seriously no, Matthew. That’s cruelty. And it’s illegal."
"Animals are unsanitary, McClane. Dogs roll in shit. Actual shit. And dead things. Things like fish guts and dead rats. Did you know that? Oh, good, okay, it’s in the house."
Matt’s voice followed him into the hallway, but Matt stayed out on the porch.
"Would you come inside the damn house already?” John shouted down the hall. “I locked the big scary puppy in the bathroom, he can’t get you."
"Puppy!?" Matt appeared, stepping over the threshold and examining his hands and his jeans like he was checking for injuries. Or dog hair. Or slobber. Or any other indication the dog might have actually managed to touch him. It hadn’t.
"Shit, how big is that thing going to get?"
"That ‘thing’ is a Belgian Shepherd,” John sighed. Yeah, this was gonna be fun. “It’s going to be...dog sized. You know, police dog size."
"Police?” Matt repeated. “Like how you’re police? Like meaning you’re going to be keeping it?" He looked slightly pale…er. Than usual.
John recognized the signs before it actually started happening. He had already made it to the kitchen and pulled open the drawer to dig out the little asthma inhaler by the time Matt, close on his heels, started to hyperventilate.
“Here,” John prompted him, holding out the puffer.
Matt stared at it.
“What? I don’t need…”  Wheeze. “Oh.”  Wheeze. “Thanks.”
There were urgent scratching noises and a whimper from the direction of the bathroom. John could feel his nerves fraying like a cheap shirt, but there was nothing to do but wait while Matt did his thing.
John watched carefully while Matt pushed the little button and sucked in the smoke, or mist, or whatever was inside the weird little cartridge. He held his breath and then released it experimentally. It still rattled slightly on the way out. John hated that sound. People made that sound when they died.  
Once Matt was breathing evenly, he put the cap back on the inhaler and gave John a quick nod that said he was okay. John took a deep breath himself. Time to explain.
"Look, ki- Matt. I didn’t ask for this.” There was no good way to explain this to Matt. How that made it damn near impossible to undo. How it was a bigger deal than just keeping a dog. Most of the guys who applied to K-9 never made it, and, even if he did have the seniority, John hadn’t even done that. “They thought it would be a good idea.”
Matt was watching him shrewdly. Waiting for that other shoe to drop.
“Is it?”
Well, hell. John didn’t think so, but what did he know?
As seemed to be customary after any time John stopped some psycho trying to take over a piece of the country and sell it for ransom, they’d handed him a promotion. Only this time it seemed like a pretty neat excuse to stick a senior guy behind a desk. Lieutenant Detective Supervisor they called it, but only after he swore if they offered him Captain he’d outright refuse.
When he came back from rehab, John was supposed to have field time, but it’d be different. He’d have a team of investigators to manage, which sounded like a bitch but really only amounted to three guys under him and more time on the phone than he liked to think about. When he ended up in the hospital again within the month though, it threw a real wrench into all that. The argument on John’s first day back over what to do about it had been a beauty.
“Came from pretty high up,” he conceded. And, he thought, it was better than the alternative they could have tried to saddle him with. “Scalvino says nobody at the Department expects me to roll with a partner at this stage. Probably couldn’t find anybody crazy enough anyhow…”
“But?” Matt asked, patiently.
Jesus the kid was smart. Too smart, sometimes. John wondered if he even needed to be explaining this at all, or if Matt could just look at him and read everything on his face like all those wacked out numbers and slashes and squiggly bracket things he was always staring at on his computer screen.
 “But,” John agreed, wearily. “After I...” Shit. There was nothing for it.
“…Chief says dogs are supposed to lower the blood pressure."
Matt put his hand over John’s where it was resting on the kitchen counter. He was breathing smoothly now, and when John looked up and met those chocolate brown eyes, there was an understanding there he wasn’t quite sure he liked.
It made him uncomfortable, Matt knowing he wasn’t unbreakable. John was supposed to protect him. But the department shrink they made him start seeing after the heart attack told him he’d have to get used to this.
Get used to, not change.
"So." Matt’s tone was matter-of-fact. Accepting. "You have a dog."
John figured that while maybe he wasn’t so enamored with the solution, Matt didn’t want him out there alone any more than the Department did.
"We have a dog."
"We," Matt repeated, dully. "I have a dog. I’m a pet owner." Matt said this like most people would say ‘smack addict’ or ‘necrophiliac’. John tried not to think about how adorable he looked when he crinkled his nose up like that.
"I’m sharing my living space with a semi-domesticated mammal. Sorry," Matt corrected, "your living space."
"You had it right the first time. What part of ‘we’ didn’t you get?"
John was so intent on successfully not tacking ‘kid’ onto the end of his sentences, he only vaguely registered what he’d just said.
Matt’s eyes widened. There was no mistaking he was stunned by the little bomb of sentiment John had just inadvertently dropped – the only question was whether it was with wonder or with horror.
Fucking peachy. John felt his stomach gnawing itself into a nasty pit, while he waited for Matt to say something that would hint either way.
The scratching in the bathroom had reached a frantic pace. His cue to escape.
"He’s gonna destroy that damn door," John growled. He started forward, but Matt subdued him with a hand on his arm.
"This is supposed to be good for your blood pressure, remember?" Matt was still looking at him with that question in his eyes. "Just. Gimme a sec."
Matt hoisted himself up so he was sitting on the counter, out of reach of any snapping of 800psi puppy jaws. He grabbed his inhaler and held it at the ready.
"Okay. Now. Release the hound."
Even with his mind going eight directions like it was, John still had to hand it to Matt. It could take him a while to get around to it, but Matt was always brave when it really counted. He’d done it for Lucy, and he was doing it for John now. And John would be six feet under before he admitted it, but he would be forever amazed and grateful that Matt had the balls to step up and call John on his bullshit that crazy night they’d finally given in to this thing that was building between them. Even if it did nearly cost him is life.
Because this life he had now, was more than worth it. He could only hope that Matt would think so too. Someday. If that day wasn’t today, well, John could wait.
He ruffled Matt’s hair and turned away toward the hall, ready to release the ‘hound’ as Matt put it, but Matt grabbed his elbow again.
"Not that one," he said, eyes sparkling mischievously.
John knew that look. And dammit, he was a sucker for that look. Hell, that was turning out to be the case for most of Matt’s looks. And how the fuck had that happened?
It wasn’t so much that John didn’t notice the slow slide from a vague appreciation of the softly-formed features and awkward charm the kid had to him, into a near-obsessive preoccupation with details like the bright, brassy timbre of his laugh or way he tossed his head to flip the hair out of his eyes so he could concentrate when something caught his interest. It was just that he hadn’t been prepared for how god damn deep it would go.
Mere months ago, John never would have believed he could find another man attractive, let alone a scrawny, milky kid nearly half his age. But now? It was like John’s libido was so attuned to Matt, so zeroed-in on everything about him, the way he moved, how he smelled…John wasn’t sure if anybody else was ever going to be able to get this old dog to sit up and howl again.
He wasn’t even sure that he wanted them to. And wasn’t that just a kick in the jewels.
It was like once their bodies got to know each other, Matt’s presence acted on John’s physical makeup like some kind of homing beacon, pulled him in, re-wired his brain so there was no where else he wanted to be. He felt almost conditioned to respond to the deliberate, honey-mocha tone Matt’s voice took on when he wanted John’s devoted attention, or to a certain look.
Like the look he was getting right now. John was sure you could definitely slot that look in the ‘come hither’ column. And he didn’t need telling twice.
Matt had reached out to pinch the front of John’s shirt between his thumb and forefinger. He wasn’t pulling, but John leaned in anyway at the silent invitation displayed across his features. Matt’s lips parted immediately as John claimed his mouth, open and welcoming. His tongue flicked forward briefly in a sort of beckoning motion that never failed to have John’s following it eagerly.
A soft growl rumbled in his chest and he could feel Matt’s answering moan humming under his thumb, where his hands had instinctively moved to map Matt’s face, his jaw, his throat. Matt was taking what was his too, tongue pushing forward again to meet John’s own, one warm hand splayed at the back of his neck and sliding up over the rough brush of stubble on his scalp. Matt hooked his legs around him, ankles locking behind his hips and pulling him as close as Matt could get him, what with the countertop in the way.
Matt’s fervor always sort of set John’s head spinning so he wasn’t all that surprised when he noticed, probably after a few seconds’ delay, that Matt had released him and was shoving at his shoulder like he had something he needed his mouth free to say. Truth was, this happened more than John would like. But a loud whine and renewed scratching noises from the hallway served as a reminder before Matt could get the words out anyway.
“Okay,” Matt said when John relented, taking a breath and squaring his shoulders before his kiss-stung lips spread in a brave grin. “Go rescue our bathroom, Detective.”
There’s a light in the window

at the house

on the street where John lives.

From the looks of things when John walked in the door, later than he wanted to be – which, he figures, is probably right on schedule for him – it hadn’t been the best day.
Matt was seated at the kitchen table – his preferred spot for pretending he wasn’t waiting up – with his laptop open and his legs pulled up in an uncomfortable looking arrangement. John saw Matt shower and dress in jeans that morning, but now he was wearing those flannel things John thinks of as pyjamas, which means at some point today Matt decided he needed to indulge in either a hot bath, or a nap. Neither were good signs for Matt. His good knee was pushed up all the way to his chin and the other, less flexible, left limb was laid across the seat of his chair with the ankle tucked behind the braced heel of the right. 
For a guy with a lot of cartilage issues, he looked suspiciously like somebody who was developing a pretty deeply ingrained habit of keeping their feet well off the floor. Even though it was long past his bed time and the puppy should be shut in his crate by now. Which, judging by the lack of wagging tails and wet noses generally making a nuisance of themselves while John tried to get in the door, he was.
John shed his coat and holster and joined Matt in the kitchen where a glance around the other side of the table confirmed this. The puppy was out of his bed, tail moving in an arc wide enough to clip the sides of the crate, but John didn’t open the door. Just said ‘attaboy’ and ‘lay down’ while he settled himself wearily at the table. Matt was already up and moving around the kitchen busily.
Routine. It was part of the socialization process, before they start with the field training. K-9 policy dictates that a juvenile animal should be ‘exposed to human contact’ throughout the day but kept to a strict set of rules, including being put into a dog bed in what they called a crate – but was just a big roomy cage as far as John could tell – at the same time every night. John wasn’t sure how much ‘human contact’ he was getting on his days at home with Matt, but he was sure Matt was pretty good about shutting him away every night at 9 pm sharp.
“So. Your neighbor hates me.” Matt’s tone was conversational, as he set a plate he had just retrieved from the microwave in front of John.
“Old Man Pulaski? Try not to fall for his sweet talk, he hates everybody.”
Matt hovered beside him, waiting for John to take his first bite, instead of going back to his work in the chair across from him. Matt distracted from his computer? Another sign today hadn’t been a bed of roses. John put his fork down again.
“Well he sure doesn’t think much of your dog, that’s for sure.” Matt always referred to the puppy that way. Not ‘the puppy’, not ‘the dog’, definitely no use of the word ‘our’. It was always John’s dog.
“He less-than-respectfully requests that you keep him out of his, quote, mother-loving rosebushes, end quote.”

Bed of roses, indeed.
“Shit.” John turned in his chair to push the one closest to him out with his foot for Matt.  “How’d the pup get away from you?”
“Pup,” Matt snorted disdainfully. “Your dog is like freakin’ Houdini.”
That reminded him, they still needed a name. John wasn’t sure that one suited though, looking over at the heap of big unwieldy paws and open-jawed adoration regarding him from its bed in the corner; complete with drooping, dripping tongue. No finesse.
Besides, it seemed like begging for trouble. More trouble than Matt had obviously had today.
“I went out to get the mail, and I ran back in because the buzzer went off for dinner.” Matt indicated the plate of re-heated mystery-meal in front of John. “Either he can open the screen door, or he can actually move pretty quick – when he takes a break from licking himself – and he got through it before it actually closed behind me. Faster than a speeding bullet,” Matt said drily, as he finally took a seat next to John. “And way more slobbery.”
“So now you’ve met Pulaski,” John said, sympathetically. “Probably not the smoothest introduction, but trust me, he ain’t likely to be any more enchanting if you caught him on any other day, anyhow.”
“He called me a hippie.”
“Did, did he? Well, he is from a time before they had cyberpunks like you running around.”
“I think he’s from a time before they had homo erectus running around.” Matt said, leaning over to pick up John’s fork, skewer something wet-looking, and hold it out in front of his lips. It was a marvel Matt didn’t blow on it first.
“And Cyberpunk isn’t a person, it’s a genre,” he said, while John chewed.
“Oh, a genre?” John didn’t ask what a genre was. “I don’t care if you’re a hippie or a punk or a genre or whatever the fuck else, as long as you keep making this.”
“You like it?” That was better. Matt’s smile lit his entire face, and John could swear the room brightened a shade or so, too.
Whatever this was didn’t look like much, but it was damn good. Matt’s cooking skills had definitely improved since the days their grocery lists had consisted mostly of various types of sodas, cereals that John was sure contained more sugar and yellow dye number five than actual grains, and each and every shape the good people at McCain’s could squeeze a frozen pizza into.
“Chicken fricassee,” Matt said, as he handed John his fork back. “Fancy word for stew,” he clarified, off John’s sardonic lift of a brow.  “The secret is butter. It’s turning out that the secret is pretty much always butter, though, so don’t get too used to it. I’m working on a lower cholesterol version. Chicken stock is a good substitute. But I still worry about the salt.”
When the day came that there wasn’t something for Matt to worry about, there would probably be a ticker-tape parade. Or whatever it is they do in hell, when they see the first snowflake.
For now, John settled for hooking an ankle around the leg of Matt’s chair and yanking sharply so it skidded toward him until the corners of the seats touched. If the sudden motion had thrown him off balance, Matt recovered well, gripping John’s bicep as the inertia brought him forward, and then dropping one leg over John’s thigh once he was steady. John noticed his eyes had gone roughly saucer-sized though. Heh. Yahtzee.
The sound of the chair scraping across the floor had gotten the puppy’s attention too, John heard the clack of claws hitting the metal floor of the crate as he leapt to his feet out of the little bed. If they ignored him he’d settle though. 
“You done good, Chef Farrell.”
Matt smiled and started to say something, but whatever it was was cut short when John gripped the back of the kid’s head and pushed their mouths firmly together. Matt had eaten some of this recently too, John could tell. He could taste the salt on him, feel the slightly greasy slide of his lips working over Matthew’s.
It was sure as hell no reason to stop. He pushed his tongue into Matt’s mouth, chased the alien flavour into every corner of the warm, sweet space until all he could taste was Matt.
“Well,” Matt panted, when John released him. “I appreciate the glowing review.” He was glowing himself, little spots of pink starting to appear on his cheeks already, eyes gone bright and glassy.
“But it’s getting cold,” he pointed out, as John slid a hand up his thigh. “Mmm then again, some of Chef Farrell’s cuisine is best enjoyed cold. Chef Farrell himself on the other hand…”
John leaned forward again to put a stop to all of this talk before the kid got carried away.
It was easy enough, with Matt’s leg already thrown over John’s like it was, to swing the other one into position and pull Matthew into his lap without even having to break off the kiss. John was pretty impressed with the move, if he did say so himself. But a sudden, ringing bark told them somebody in the room didn’t agree.
Matt startled and pulled away, huffing in irritation at the interruption when John turned his head to give a silencing command. The interruption was short-lived and John concentrated on blazing a trail of roaming kisses over the scattered fuzz on Matt’s cheek and jaw. Matt let out a moan when John reached his ear and took the sensitive shell between his teeth.
There was another sharp bark.  
“Ugh!” Matt’s face was flushed and his brows contorted in frustration. “What is his problem?”
John was pretty sure he knew.
“Thinks I’m hurtin’ ya.”

Instead of explaining, John twisted his fingers into Matt’s hair. He watched appreciatively when Matt’s eyes slid slowly shut in response. He tugged gently, tipping Matt’s head to the side so he could press his lips to the vulnerable exposed flesh of his throat. 
Sure enough there was a loud protest from the corner.
“Oh my God,” Matt jerked free and addressed the puppy in exasperated tones, “Would you mellow the fuck out already? I like him. This is good, what he’s doing. You’re gonna have to get used to this, okay? Humans do it facing each other! …Sometimes.”
It seemed to do the trick. He didn’t go back to his bed, but he shut his yap and sat down on the floor of the crate, regarding them inquisitively.
“Holy shit,” Matt said, eyes round. “It worked. Can they…how much do they understand? When you talk to them, or…”
John couldn’t help a little chuckle at the gobsmacked expression on Matt’s face.
“Some words. If they hear ‘em enough. Like a command, or a name – we still need to name him by the way.” Matt’s eyes narrowed slightly while he considered this. “But mostly it’s just the tone of the voice.”
Still, John thought it might be a good idea to move this party somewhere they wouldn’t have an audience.
So it turned out Chef Farrell did end up getting carried away, but only as far as the couch in the living room. And he was right too, that chicken stuff was just as good cold.
And lately there’s always somebody home

to keep the light on

at the house

on the street where John lives.

It hadn’t been the first bad day during the socialization, but luckily for Matt, there were also training days. It was John’s responsibility twice a week to get the dog to what basically amounted to kindergarten. They had to get the basics down, like staying on command and walking on a lead, before they could start anything like public order training or tracking. John tended to get home relatively exhausted on training days, although when he did, Matt was usually miraculously in a more serene mood than usual.  
But having the puppy around wasn’t all bad. Sure it was a little tougher getting up that much earlier in the mornings for a feeding and to run through some ‘homework’ from training, but John got used to it pretty quick. Not just the earlier start to the day, but the way it started, too.
It was kind of nice having somebody else around besides Matt who actually seemed happy to see him. And John couldn’t deny the little guy was cute, the dark mask of his face a stark and handsome contrast with the thick, golden fur covering the rest of him. And sometimes, he was downright useful.
For instance, all it took was a simple “go get Matty!” and suddenly Matt was hurriedly raising his feet into the air to avoid whatever potential puppy-damage might befall them, instead of putting them all over John’s coffee table.
The next morning was a perfect example. John said his magic words and Matt had to put down the carton of orange juice he’d been lifting directly to his mouth, in order to fend off a drool-attack.
“Matty?” Matt asked archly, once he was safe. “You could have just said ‘use a glass’.”
“Use a glass, Matty.” John said, handing him one.
“You said they understand names,” Matt said, while he poured. “Isn’t that going to confuse him?”
“It is your name. S’a matter, you don’t like it?”
“Meh.” Matt shrugged, and drained his glass of juice in one go. “Not that it’s any less juvenile, but at least somebody in the house’ll know my name isn’t actually ‘kid’.” He handed John the glass back instead of putting it in the dishwasher where it ought to go, and gave the dog a wide berth on his way out of the kitchen.
John hadn’t called him ‘kid’ in weeks. And from the sounds if it, he had the right idea there. A little credit for effort so far would’ve been nice though.
And, yeah, it’s a man
who’s always home

to keep the light on
at the house
on the street where John lives.

The power of John’s secret weapon was bound to wear off sooner or later.  
He’d been prepared for a longer, more gradual acclimatization on Matt’s part but, as with most things, the kid worked fast. It was almost like the realization that the dog could understand more or less what Matt wanted when he talked started some sort of unlock sequence in the kid’s brain and everything clicked through from there like clockwork.
A couple nights later that week, John was in the door early for once and enjoying Matt’s customary welcome. He only had a few seconds to do it in though, before Matt was stopping what he was doing and saying something against John’s mouth that sounded like it was about bullets, before he felt a familiar set of oversized paws make an awkward landing on his leg, just above the knee.
“I said down!” Matt repeated himself, and to John’s surprise, the puppy obeyed. But he’d also said something else…
He was even more surprised when Matt disentangled himself to crouch down and scratch behind the furry ears and mutter quiet praise.
“What?” Matt asked when he looked up at John from his awkward squatting position. John’s bafflement must have been written all over his face. “We’re supposed to reward him for obeying a command, right?”
“What did you just say?”
“Um…Good boy?”
“Before that.”
“Get down?”
Who’s on first? They could do this all day. John really didn’t want to. He preferred what they’d been doing before. 
“Did you say ‘Bullet’?”
Bullet the police dog? Really?
“Oh. Yeah. I thought – you know, how fast he is. And you always stop flipping channels and watch it whenever you see it on the late night movie. At least until the end of the car chase. Besides,” Matt said, rubbing under the pup’s chin and turning its head so John could see its face. “Doncha think he’s got sort of a dashing, blond, Hiltzy-thing going on?”
Ah. Bullitt. Cute pun. John liked it. He nodded, and Matt smiled. It was much better than Houdini.
“Definitely pulled off The Great Escape the other day,” John agreed, getting down beside them to rub the puppy’s head and then leaning back to avoid the large wet dog-tongue aiming for his face.
 “Ooh,” Matt intoned, dramatically. “What’s that? Quick, check me, am I bleeding? I think something cut me. Oh that’s right, it must have been the McClane rapier wit.”
Matt apparently wasn’t ready to laugh about his encounter with their crotchety neighbor yet.
“You know,” he added, “I thought about naming him ‘McQueen’ but I think it’s just a little too on the nose for you.”
That pun John could do without. Thankfully Matt had already moved on. 
“I was just getting ready to take him for his walk...wanna come with?”
Not exactly the kind of exercise John had in mind, but why the hell not. He still had his coat on after all.
They were on their way back up the driveway when they’d heard the dry, wizened taunt from the yard next to John’s.
“Making a real habit of taking in strays, McClane!”
Matt turned a disbelieving ‘are you hearing this shit?’ stare on John. He couldn’t have yelled ‘what’d I tell ya’ and any louder if he’d whipped out a megaphone. Maybe Old Man Pulaski really did have it in for Matt, but John wasn’t so sure. He’d tried to explain it. It was just the old bugger’s way.
“Hey, Wavy-Gravy.”
Matt pointed toward himself, questioningly. “Matt,” he said.
“Yeah that’s right, I’m talking to you,” Old Man Pulaski coughed wetly. “Ya see any other long-haired hippie freaks around here? Drag your skinny ass over and gimme a hand with this burlap, here.”
“Well I wasn’t sure,” Matt muttered, handing Bullit’s leash to John and making his way reluctantly onto Pulaski’s perfectly manicured lawn. “Friends call me granola-breath, but it’s hemp-for-brains to you.”
“Got a real wisenheimer on your big Mick hands, McClane.” Mr. Pulaski called over Matt’s shoulder to John. “Oughta put him over your knee.”
“They say you should never take advice from a Polack,” John shot back. He grinned over at Matt, who seemed to be taking in this whole unlikely exchange with a sort of cringing bemusement. “But I might just take you up on that one.”
Old Man Pulaski gave a wheezy laugh and John heard him say something that sounded like “crazy old faggot” as he worked himself down onto one knee to fiddle and finagle the burlap he was wrapping around his precious rosebushes into the perfect position. He directed Matt brusquely to hold it in place.  
Matt opened his mouth, probably to say one of at least seven possible smart-assed things about shit like pots and kettles and the colors of the rainbow, but right at that moment, Pulaski produced a staple gun and pushed it into the burlap. Matt jumped at the surprisingly loud report the thing let off. Pulaski repeated the gesture several times before standing up and shooing Matt off his grass.
“Alright, alright, free to go. Wasn’t so painful was it?”
Matt appeared to be visibly biting his tongue, but he astonishingly didn’t offer the old codger any more grief, just returned to John’s side to take the lead back again.
“Frost coming,” Mr. Pluaski was saying to John. “Gonna be a real bitch. If there’s anything worth keeping in that garden of yours, McClane, you should take some of this burlap I got. Let the boy do something to earn his keep.”
“Nah, nothing worth keeping but the boy, thanks.” John clapped a gloved hand down on Matt’s shoulder. “And he does enough already.”
John really meant it. But Pulaski let out a parched crack of laughter regardless.
“Well you can just leave the grubby details out of it. You’ll tell me if you want any of this burlap though. No sense letting it go to waste.”
On John’s way in the next evening there was Pulaski, out and about in his yard again.
And if that wasn’t surprise enough, he had a message for Matt.
“Your best buddy Pulaski wants to see you.”
Either something was up or John really was going batty from all the paperwork lately. Matt actually sounded pleased.
“Just told me to send ‘my goofy-looking tree hugger’ over there. So unless I missed the love-in and you got a van-load of other groovy flower children sleeping it off under the stairs then yeah, he wants to see you.”
John thought he’d keep the rest of what Pulaski said to himself, something about having ‘something to give the whelp. Both of ‘em actually.’
“Ok sure. Can you...?” Matt made a whole lot of waving, flipping motions with his hands that seemed to generally indicate the stove.

John felt suddenly helpless. He wanted to help but Matt’s cooking ventures had become increasingly complicated. John wasn’t intimidated in his own fucking kitchen or anything like that, it was just... 
“What do I- ”
“Nothing!” Matt said, as he ducked into the hall to retrieve his coat and returned, grinning. “When the buzzer goes off, take the pizza out.”
 “I get frozen pizza? No cholesterol warning? No salt-rationing?”
“Not tonight.” Matt yelled from the door. “We’re celebrating!”
John heard the door slam behind him before he could ask why.
“Took you a while,” John said, when Matt returned. The pizza had long been out of the oven, and John was standing over the kitchen sink, helping himself to a piece.

“I know, sorry.” Matt popped a quick kiss, chilled with his short exposure the outdoor air, on John’s cheek. “We got chatting.” 
Chatting? Just how much time had Matt suddenly taken to spending with the old coot?
“Alright. Give,” John demanded, as Matt joined him at the sink with his own slice. “What the hell is going on with you and Old Man Clampett? And what am I celebrating, all by my self over here?”
“Funny you should ask.”
Yeah. A regular laugh-riot. John finished up and leaned past Matt to rinse the grease off his fingers and dry them on the dishtowel hanging on the peg next to him.
“We are celebrating two things. One, I racked up another point in the rescue column today. I know the McClane-Farrell spread is still exponential in its vastness, but my kill count is considerably lower too, so. I think that should factor in.”
John folded his arms and waited. Matt was enjoying whatever his secret was too much not to crack and give it up in the next thirty seconds.
“Okay, okay. Bullitt and I saved a life today. Mr. Pulaski’s.”
It was quite the story. Matt gave the details with great relish, about how he’d been working in the den when he heard frenzied scratching at the front door that meant Bullitt had managed to escape again. But when Matt got to the door to bring him inside the dog was having a conniption, barking and whining and straining against his collar to get back outside. It was strange enough that Bullitt had come back to the door on his own. It was obvious he wanted to get Matt’s attention, so Matt finally decided to put the lead on and follow him back outside.
“There he was, lying on his front porch,” Matt said. “At first I thought he had a stroke or something. His pulse was really slow, but he was breathing. I called 911 and brought out some blankets. I don’t know, no idea what I was doing. But when they got here, the paramedics said it was the blankets that saved him. He’s got some kind of condition...I looked it up. It’s called vasovagal syncope. Basically sometimes when he gets stressed out something happens to this nerve in his neck and he pretty much has a fainting spell. They said it’s not dangerous, other than the whole old-dude-falling-down-and-breaking-a-hip issue, but hypothermia is. Usually when he has these things, he just wakes up once the blood starts flowing again, but it got so cold out today... and he was lying out there a while without a coat, or even shoes.”
John shook his head.
“Shoes. I know,” Matt said, before John could.
“Never leave home without ‘em,” John agreed, anyway.
“After he was stable and the ambulance left, we had some lunch. Atrocious sense of social correctness aside, he’s not a bad old guy. Makes a helluva strong cup of coffee.”
Anyone who liked their caffeine was alright in Matt’s books.
“He told me Bullitt was in his garden again, so he went out to yell at him and had one of those syncope things. So I told him how if it wasn’t for Bullitt, I never would have found him. He just called me over because he wanted to know Bullitt’s name, so he could write it on his gift.”
Matt was digging in his pocket and handing John something. It was a tiny metal canister on a ring, like a dog license tag. But there was no name on it John could see.
“Open it,” Matt prompted.
John fumbled with the little container for a few seconds before Matt got impatient and snatched it back. His long, dexterous fingers had no trouble twisting the tiny ends apart. Matt removed something and placed it in the middle of John’s waiting palm.
John unfurled the tiny slip of paper. Sure enough, it had John and Matt’s names with their address printed across the top. Underneath that was a shakily penned note.
My name is Bullitt and I’m a hero. I’m also a God damned nuisance.
So if you find me in your yard digging up your prize rosebushes, please give me a well-deserved piece of your mind and return me to the good people at the address above.
Well, fuckin’ A.
“Doesn’t sound like he hates you to me.”
“I swear he wrote ‘hippie faggots’ before he erased it and put down ‘people’.”
But Matt was smiling as he took the note back and folded it into its tiny chamber, so it seemed like he had learned to handle the old curmudgeon alright on his own.
“You said we were celebrating something else?” John reminded him.
“You mean those two things aren’t enough?”
Sometimes John wondered how much time he spent in the average week just looking at Matt and waiting for him to get done being a wise ass before he said whatever the hell he needed to get across.
 “We are also,” Matt announced officiously, as he reached into the fridge to retrieve two beers and hand one to John, “celebrating the New York City Police officially solving a national security issue.”
John didn’t like the sound of what was probably coming next. Matt was looking entirely too smug as he popped the caps of their bottles, and if anything major had happened at the station today John would have heard about it.
“They’ve found the perfect partner for John McClane. Somebody who has a hero-complex almost as big as he does…and knows what to do when old guys who exceed their excitement quota collapse on him without warning.”
Matt clinked the neck of his bottle against John’s, and it was a wonder he didn’t choke on his first swig, he was trying so hard not to laugh at is own ‘rapier wit’.
“He also shuts up on command. Matthew.”
“Matthew? Am I in trouble? What happened to ‘kid’? And Matty?”
John took a second to enjoy the cold, bitter flood of the beer over his tongue before he answered. The day Matt made up his mind about something…
“Thought you hated that.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I believe you used the word ‘juvenile’.”
“Yeah, well. Maybe it is. But then so am I, sometimes.”
Nah. With the day’s events, Matt certainly didn’t have anything left to prove in the maturity department.
“Besides,” he went on, setting down his beer and picking up Bullit’s gift. “It’s not so bad now that I’m not the youngest in the house. Now that we have a big furry baby, ‘Matty’ kind of sounds more like ‘daddy’ anyway.”
“You sayin’ you want me to call you Daddy?”
“Yeah,” Matt said, but given the cooing, breathy tone, John was pretty sure he was talking to the dog – who was approaching eagerly as Matt bent down and put his good knee to the floor.
To John, he said, “Ew. Wow, yeah, really ew. No. Please don’t. Ever again.” 
“You know, for a guy who doesn’t like dogs you’re being awful sappy about your new ‘baby’ here.”
“He’s not just a dog, he’s a canine officer of the law,” Matt fussed, attaching the little cylinder to the ring on Bullitt’s collar.
That wasn’t strictly true yet. They still had a lot of training work to get through. Bullitt wouldn’t be due for a badge number for quite some time.
“And he’s a hero,” Matt added. “I have it in writing. That makes it official.”
Well, that John couldn’t argue with. He watched as Matt gave Bullitt one last scratch, and then straightened up and dusted his hands off on the ass of his jeans.
“So, what am I allowed to call you now? Matthew? Matty? You sure can be picky, kid.”
“Heyyyy, that sounds alright.” Matt’s warm, slow smile matched that lazy honey-tone creeping into his voice again. “Much more like John McClane. I missed that guy.”
He demonstrated this by wrapping his arms around John’s hips, and tucking his thumbs in under John’s belt.
“Yeah?” John leaned over and set down his beer so he could reciprocate. “Sure you don’t want to be called something more big and manly? Like maybe Lance, or Bruce?” He brought a hand up and threaded his fingers into Matt’s hair. “How ‘bout Fabio?”
Matt angled upward, creating a gentle tension in the strands wound around John’s fingers, and nipped at the lower corner of his mouth.
“How about you shut up altogether?”
John wasn’t about to argue with that, either.
That’s one happy dog

at the feet of the man

who’s always home

to keep the light on
at the house

on the street where John lives.

The trainer says John isn’t supposed to let just the lead go like that without giving a command first when Bullitt wants to greet somebody, but this is at home, and he’s supposed to ‘socialize’ after all. And John figures “go get Matty” counts as giving a command anyway.
He’s juggling a gigantic bag of dog food too, and it’s not like he could have held onto that and the leash much longer anyway. Not with the extra few pounds Bullitt’s gained in the last weeks and with his favorite person in the world crouched on the porch with open arms like that.
John stops a minute, pulling the healthy groceries Matt wanted for dinner out of the trunk, to appreciate the picture they make. And if the title of the little tableau that hits him first is A Boy and his Dog before he can mentally re-name it Man’s Best Friend, well, what Matt doesn’t know won’t hurt John’s plans for his own ‘socialization’ tonight.
He whistles a little on his way up the driveway, thinking that as much as he loves Bullitt, Pulaski – and his roses – would probably appreciate it if they put up a fence around the yard.
He wonders how Matt would feel about white pickets.


~~~~~~~~ Live Free or Die Hard ~~~~~~~~



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