It's the Great Pumpkin, John McClane

Chapter 1

It wasn’t until after Matt moved into his room, that John found out about the night terrors.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. Not given everything they’d been through, and it was the kid’s first ride on the terrorism tilt-a-whirl after all. John remembered the years after the Nakatomi fiasco. It wasn’t pretty; the nightmares, the chain smoking. A couple more drinks after knocking off work than might have been strictly prudent.

Hadn’t helped grease the wheels on giving things the first of several ‘second tries’ with Holly, either. Hell, she’d been there too, had her own shit to deal with. Two kids who couldn’t understand why Mommy looked like she had been crying sometimes when she picked them up from school after work. Not to mention the nutty survivor’s guilt, and John’s inability to comprehend it – not for that jackhole Ellis.

John had seen guys flame out and leave the force over less than what Matt had had to deal with. Nobody forgets the first time they have to pull their weapon, and being a civilian wouldn’t change a damn thing. If anything it had to be worse.

When Matt had woken up that morning in July – actually to stick to facts, he’d probably been awake all night – he’d been expecting to make a pile of cash on a big consulting job he’d spent months on. Not to end up running for his life with some cop who would’ve just as soon slapped him in cuffs if he had’ve had another 30 lbs on him – or even looked like he could handle himself in any effective sort of way.

John looked over at Matt next to him. He was asleep again now, one arm thrown over his eyes and the other tossed carelessly across John’s chest, fingers twitching slightly like he was tapping keys in his sleep.

Nope, Matt didn’t look dangerous in the least. John knew better now, though. 

It could have been worse. Way worse.

It was bad enough as it was.

The first time it happened, John woke up before Matt did. It was the kid’s thrashing that did it. John waited a few seconds for him to wake up before he got sick of getting kicked and reached over to shake him before the kid’s feet could score an impact in a spot more personal than his shins.

Looking back, it should have been a dead giveaway how coolly Matt handled it.

"Shit. Sorry. Sorry, did I have a night mare?

"Yeah. That happen a lot?"

"It happens enough," Matt said into his hands, as he rubbed them over his face. "It’s cool you’re here though, because this way I can just go back to sleep. Usually I have to lie awake and listen to you sawing logs like a pulp and paper mill for an hour or so."

"You sayin’ my snoring keeps you awake an entire storey down?"

"Nope. Best lullaby ever. Go to sleep and I’ll show you."

They didn’t go back to sleep though. Not with the way he caught Matt looking at him every time John opened his eyes. That whip-smart gaze not sleep-lidded, but open and intent; blackened with pupils stretching to make out the details of John’s features in the dark of the bedroom. The side of Matt’s mouth that wasn’t pressed into the pillow would curve in a silent smile every time John cracked an eye to look, like he knew a secret. Like he was waiting for something, for John to catch on. And – 2 am or no – John wasn’t one to keep that mouth waiting for long.

The second time it happened, Matt was awake and staring blearily up at him, with those agile fingers wrapped tightly enough around John’s wrist to dig in and bite a little.

"What the hell?"

"You rolled on top of me," Matt explained, flatly. "I...was dreaming. I must have grabbed onto you or something, because you just rolled over and covered my head like we were taking fire."

He let go of John’s wrist, and let his hand fall back on the sheets.

"Fuck, John, warn a guy huh? Sleep walking is one thing but sleep rescuing...if you have a tendency to smother your dates in your sleep, no offense but I’m gonna go back to sleeping in the den."

Matt smiled up at him, taking the edge off the quip, but in this position John could feel him trembling.

That time they did go back to sleep. But not before John rolled them both over so that he was holding Matt tight against his chest – where he could be sure not to crush him while they slept, but mostly so he could run his hands over Matthew’s back and shoulders and arms until the last traces of tremor ebbed away.

Matt kept up an increasingly sleepy refrain of "’m fine", but John didn’t stop rubbing his back, and Matt didn’t pull away, either.

Later, John would think that Matt probably hadn’t grabbed him that night. It was more likely he’d been calling John’s name. For a while there, it was happening more and more often.

It got to be a regular thing. Matt would wake up already talking; calling John’s name and shouting unconscious curses that stuttered and turned into wakeful apologies.

And John learned after once or twice of this to stop telling him "shhh" and "you’re alright". He fuckin’ well wasn’t alright, there was no reason in hell Matt should be alright, and it turned out saying "tell me’" just plain worked better.

It got them both back to sleep faster, and that was something anyway. It was like the nightmare tumbled out through his mouth and flowed away somewhere, like a rush of spring meltwater over a dam.

It was just as chilling too, some of the time, but John wasn’t about to let on. He didn’t want to stem the flow of Matt’s outpourings. John was no shrink and he couldn’t be sure, but it felt like Matt was getting better.

The first time John asked him to explain the dream, Matt had been reluctant. All John got out of him was:

"It was the elevator shaft again. Sometimes, it’s me and Lucy. With Gabriel. And that guy with the beard that– but usually it’s you. And that stupid fucking elevator shaft."

Then Matt had curled himself into a ball, with his face buried in John’s chest, and John didn’t believe to this day he’d fallen back asleep, but he’d refused to say another word.

They both got better with practice though. John learned a couple of tricks. First, he had to ask right away, the second Matt’s eyes flew open, before the alertness of panic could give way to the lingering cloud of sleep. He’d give Matt’s shoulders a little shake if he had to. Press him into the mattress maybe, just a hand on his chest so Matt couldn’t roll over and ignore him – or slide closer and start sabotaging John’s resolve with determined burrowing and nuzzling. 

It was this sort of strike-while-the-iron-is-hot approach that let John slowly get the whole picture.

"Tell me."

"I ki – that guy, the elevator…you were in trouble, John. He was trying to – he…I should have stopped him. I sh – I killed him. Didn’t hesitate."

So it wasn’t fear. It was guilt.

"And that’s…that’s not even – McClane?"

Matt actually waited for John to prompt him with another ‘tell me’ before he gave his last, toneless confession.

"I was glad he was dead."

"No you weren’t," John tried for reassuring, but it might have come out argumentative.

"No, I was. I really was." Matt twisted his wrists forcefully out of John’s grasp where he’d been holding onto him, to stop him throwing unwitting punches as he woke. "He was there, and he was trying to kill you, trying to…take you away from me. I got there first. And I hit – I hit him and he died. And I was happy about it."

With his hands now free, Matt brought both of them miserably up to cover his eyes.

"You weren’t glad he was dead," John repeated, and it came out a little softer this time. "You weren’t happy you killed a man, Matt. You were just glad he was done trying to kill me."

This one, John knew for a fact. Knew it a little too well; the relief, the rush – no matter how sick or ashamed it makes you feel later. The reality of that moment when you win against an enemy who is trying to hurt somebody you would gladly die to save – an enemy who isn’t pulling any punches, who will give it their damnedest to end your life in the process – the bleak, undeniable reality of that moment is triumph.

There’s nothing quite like it, and that’s a good thing. It’s not a place John wants to go again. No matter how many times he’s seen it.

Matt didn’t say anything at first. He just brought his hands down, let John look into his midnight-wide eyes, search them for …John wasn’t sure what. Panic, fear, anger. Truth.

Matt nodded a little, coming back to himself. He looked down at his hands.

"You know how I said your way-loud snoring puts me to sleep?"

Matt’s hair was a series of vicious-looking tangles against the pillow. John smiled a little and started smoothing one with his thumb. "Uh huh."

"That’s why. It’s because– I know what I said, but I don’t actually lie there and listen. I’m up already, so. Sometimes I just…go out in the hallway so I can hear better, hear you breathing and grunting and stuff. So then I know where you are," Matt said, simply. "And nobody shot you like in my dreams, and you didn’t– you’re not having a heart attack or getting blown up by anything."

Maybe some of it was fear after all.

"I’m not going anywhere."

"Yeah. That’s what you say, but then you don’t take good..." Matt huffed a little, impatient. Resentful of the time it always seemed to take him to wrest control of his brain-to-mouth connection back from the night mare. "Let’s face it John, you’re not what most people would call careful with your own wellbeing."

"Hey," John said, giving up on sorting out Matt’s hair and running his thumb lightly over his generous bottom lip, instead. "I’ll be alright. I got the world’s best partner watching my back."

"Mmm. Noticed that did ya?" Matt answered, shifting a little under the blankets so he could run his hands up and over John’s skin, waking each nerve ending in the path of those clever fingers out of late-night lifelessness. "What can I say, it is a nice back. Got any other parts that need attention?" 


After that, things really did seem to get better. Matt would wake up and John would ask for the instant replay, but the urgency, some of the panic, seemed to be gone. Matt would re-tell the horror story playing out on the big screen behind his eyes, until his tone evened out. Their low murmurs and quiet reassurances became comforting kisses, and the slow, soothing stroking of skin would inevitably turn to a firmer, more ardent touch.

Soon, Matt was going more and more nights in a row without waking up. It had been nearly a full week before it happened again. But when it did happen, this time Matt didn’t call out, or kick. In fact, John wasn’t even sure what woke him because when he opened his eyes he was alone.

When John found him, staring intently at his computer monitor like it held the answer to life, the universe and everything (it was a lie incidentally, there was absolutely nothing special about 42), Matt insisted this was normal for him. That this whole crazy thing he’d been doing called sleep, was only due to the codeine, and before he’d hooked up with John and gone out to get shot at, he used to be up pretty much the entire night. Pretty much every night.

What with the evidence of caffeine addiction John had witnessed in the time Matt had been with him, he wasn’t inclined to dismiss this explanation altogether. But he could be patient when it counted, and the kid’s alibi didn’t stand up over time. The very next night, Matt had another nightmare. The signs were different, but John was sure of it.

John awoke to muttering and snuffling that at first didn’t sound so bad, until he heard the distinct and gut-clenching sound of grinding teeth. When he rolled over, Matt was curled in on himself, fingers balled into tight fists, and his jaw working so intensely John could hear it click.

That was new. And it was enough already. John was putting a stop to this before Matt chipped a god damn tooth.

John woke him up and was prepared to go through their whole routine, when he ran into a wall.

"Tell me."

"I don’t remember," Matt said, sitting up and pulling a hand trough his hair – which, for once, was fine.

That was new too. And John couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t seem like progress.

"I’m gonna get up and…go work for a while, okay McClane?"

Get up? "McClane"? Defnitely not progress.

It happened again. And again after that. And it didn’t stop there, either. Weird shit John was sure the kid hadn’t been doing before was starting to happen in the daytime too, all over the house.

For starters, Matt was keeping stashes of candy everywhere. There was a packet of Twizzlers in the kitchen, and a gargantuan bag of those little chalky-looking things in rolls kids used to call Rockets in the old den where Matt used to keep most of his computer gear. Some of it was still there. He hadn’t so much moved it upstairs as spread it around the house.

John actually didn’t mind as much as he should. It wasn’t so bad, having Matt venture out of his room(s) a little more often. And if it meant there was a laptop taking up permanent residence on John’s coffee table, or video games that for some reason required a fake plastic guitar hooked up indefinitely to his TV, well, John figured Matt making himself comfortable was a pretty good indication that he planned to stay a while.

And if that was going to be the case, John figured it was only fair.


The box of Tootsie pops in the goddamn bathroom was pushing it. And if John found one more half-empty can of Red Bull with a wad of chewing gum the size of a small country stuck to the rim, he swore he was going to lose it.

Mainlining sugar wasn’t the only new development, either. There were other odd habits John was starting to notice, too. As they sat on the couch channel surfing after dinner one night, Matt was indulging in one of his new favourites. John looked over at the compulsive sound of Matt cracking his knuckles one by one. He’d give the kid this, he was thorough with his obsessions.

Matt would do all the fingers of his left hand, before he moved on to the right. Next, he’d make a fist with one hand and squeeze with the other, cracking the second, smaller joint of each digit. Finally, he finished with the thumbs. And that’s when John noticed the most disconcerting sign yet. Matt’s fingernails. They had always been brutally short, but now, they were bitten down past the quick and had clearly been bleeding.

"Hey," John interrupted him, mid-crack. Matt had only gotten as far as the middle finger of his right hand. "What happened to your hands?"

"Huh?" Matthew stopped giving himself premature arthritis long enough to spread his fingers and flip his hands in the air, examining the backs followed by the palms.

"Your fingernails. What’s going on there?"

"Oh. Well, I had this hangnail and then I – colder weather, dry skin I guess. Happens sometimes, you know how it is. Sorry, looks gross, I know." Matt put a hand down on John’s knee before he hauled himself off the couch. "I’m gonna get a drink, you want anything?"

He was already halfway to the kitchen before John could say ‘no thanks’.

"But if you’re gonna have a Red Bull, spit that damn gum out first!"


The next day was when Matt’s behaviour reached a culmination point.

John was re-stocking the fridge for the weekend when one of the beer bottles toppled off of the shelf, performed a perfect double pike with a twist, and smashed on the floor in an artful sea of foam complete with tiny glass icebergs. The judges give it a 5.8, John thought.

"Matt? Could ya grab me that dishtowel?" John asked, after he finished cursing.


"What? What’s wrong with you, why not?" John closed the fridge, and stepped away from the spreading pool of yellow and white.

"Um. Bet you never thought I’d say this, but, my nails are wet." Matt sheepishly held up his hands, but they looked the same.

John stretched over the spill to pull the towel off of the hook and threw it into the beer puddle. It wasn’t enough. He went to the drawer and pulled out a couple more before he threw them down too. He looked back at Matt, waiting for an explanation.

"I’ve been trying to stop biting them!" He said, looking stricken. His neck was flushed at the sides where those adolescent blushes of his always started. "So I bought this ‘no-bite’ stuff you have to paint on. First I tried chewing gum and just keeping my mouth busy but I just don’t – sorry. Hopefully this works, and…what?"

"Nah, nothing."

"John. What?"

John was trying not to smirk. It wasn’t appropriate. There was a mess on the floor, and Matt was being serious. But he was acknowledging the crazy nervous candy hoarding and the uncontrollable finger-gnawing and, truth was, John was frankly a little giddy from relief.

"If all you needed was something to keep your mouth busy..."

It took a second.

"I don’t know wh – wait. No. I think. Yeah, I think you might be onto something there."

Matt’s smile had some serious wattage to it, and it must have blinded John for a minute because Matt was already moving toward him before he realized it was a bad idea.

"Hold it! Don’t move. There’s glass on the floor."

Matt’s smile faltered a little, but his approach didn’t.

"One little smashed bottle, are you kidding me? This is nothing. I used to tend bar, man. You’d be surprised how well a guy can learn to navigate a workspace littered in shattered glass."

"Overprotective jackass?" John asked soberly, once Matt was standing in front of him. Lucy couldn’t stand it. Hadn’t ever really sat that well with Holly, either.

"It’s okay," Matt reassured him, twining his arms around John’s neck. "Broken glass, right? I know why you always wear shoes. Even inside."

"You been researching me on the internet?"

"Didn’t have to," Matt pressed his forehead to John’s, and shut his eyes. "You were the topic of every popup and stupid celebrity gossip push page in existence for the entire summer." Matt opened his eyes and grinned again. "But to answer the question: yes."

"So you know everything there is to know about me then? Nothing left I can show ya?"

"Ohhhh. N- no." John worked his hands up and under the back of Matt’s shirt. He couldn’t help smiling at the way the kid’s words tripped over each other in response. "I’m a McClane enthusiast, I’m sure there’s much, much more I – heh, mmm – much more I’d be willing to – mgh – learn."

John was still getting used to this. Being allowed to touch, to taste. He wondered if he would ever get over it – the smooth heat of Matt’s skin, the narrow columns of lean muscle on either side of the slightly prominent spine. The taut, sensitive flesh of his belly, that made him take sharp little breaths when John stroked it lightly.

Matt made an unhappy moaning noise that made John pause in his work and pull back to look him in the eye.

"I can’t touch you," he groaned. "I’ll get this stupid chemical crap on my fingers everywhere."

"Can’t touch, huh? Now that could be fun," John replied, spreading his palm flat and pushing it higher up under the thin layer of cotton he was already starting to resent for interfering with his access to that rapidly warming skin. He dipped his head and ran slightly-parted lips over the long tendon in Matt’s neck, for good measure.

Matt growled a little in frustration.

"You are both cruel and unusual, sir."

"Does that mean I should stop?"

John thought he made it pretty clear the question was rhetorical, by shifting his grip to the backs of Matt’s thighs and hoisting his ass up and back so he was sitting on the counter.

"Don’t you dare," Matt said anyway. "Oh! But just make sure you don’t get my fingers anywhere near your mouth. They taste like ass. Well actually not like ass at all. Worse than ass. Turns out ass doesn’t actually..."

John might have been interested in hearing the rest of that sentence but at the moment he was more interested in getting his hands deep into the satin strands of Matt’s hair, and his tongue even deeper into the welcoming candy-sweet of his mouth.

They could worry about broken bottles later. John had his boots on of course, and he didn’t intend to let Matt’s feet hit the floor for a good while long after the ten minutes or so it would take his nails to dry.


                ~~~~~~~~ Back to Live Free or Die Hard ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 2



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