It's the Great Pumpkin, John McClane

Chapter 2

That abominable no-bite shit did eventually make its way into John’s mouth though.

Matt was right, it didn’t taste like ass at all. It tasted downright toxic. John spit out the tainted mouthful of his lunch the minute the acrid, bitter burn of it hit his tongue.

Matt looked up at him over the edge of his own sandwich, startled.

"Put that down," John said, picking up both of their plates.


"Because it’s poison. You can’t tell that’s not what grilled cheese is supposed to taste like? You shouldn’t be cooking with that repellent shit all over your hands." John wasn’t sure he wanted Matthew painting it directly onto his open cuts, either.

Matt dropped his sandwich onto the plate John was holding dejectedly.

"I think I’ve developed an immunity to it," he complained, propping his elbows on the table and sinking his head into his hands so his hair jutted out between his fingers everywhere like some kind of spastic tarantula. "I just sort of, power my way through the initial nastiness now, until I can’t taste it any more. Then I just keep on chewing."

That settled it.

"Go wash it off. Or do whatever you do to get rid of it. It’s not doing you any more good. Go on, I’ll fix you a fresh sandwich."


John remembered what Holly used to do with Lucy when she’d gotten old enough to want to grow her nails but couldn’t stop biting them as soon as they got past a certain length.

John didn’t expect Matt to be overjoyed with his solution, but he didn’t exactly expect the reaction he did get.

"I was really hoping to avoid that this year," Matt sighed, when John showed him the little bottle he’d picked up on his way home. "You know they make this stuff in slightly less flamboyant colours, right? Like clear?"

But he shook the bottle vigorously as he led the way into the bathroom, and he twisted off the cap with the miniature paintbrush in it and started to apply the nail polish to his pinky, anyway.

"Guess I’m just lucky they don’t make it in rainbow."

"You said black was your colour," John reminded him, hovering outside the bathroom door. "You said it’s not gay. That chicks love it."

"You know, when you said you’d keep that in mind, I thought it was playful banter," Matt shot back. He kept his eyes down over what he was doing, so John couldn’t quite tell how deep the sarcasm went. "What are you, starting a dossier on me?"

"Cop," John said, like it answered the question. He didn’t point out that there was almost as much bullshit about Matt all over the internet now if John cared to go Google-hunting or whatever the term was. "Hey listen, I’m just tryna help."

"You wanna help?" Matt sighed, "I’m a righty. You do my right hand."

"No problem."

"No problem?"

"Sure, I’m not so bad at detail work. It’s just like touch-up paint. I used to do Holly’s toes for her – couldn’t reach ‘em when she was pregnant."

Matt smiled a little but finished up what he was doing instead of looking up.

"Alright then. You’re up, beauty-school dropout." Matt still sounded a little incredulous but he stuck the little brush back in the bottle for John to deal with and held out his hand.

He wasn’t as fast at this as Matt was. They were quiet for a few moments, while Matt watched John’s work, slightly hawkishly.

Now was as good a time as any, John supposed. He inspected his work on Matt’s index finger before he asked.

"You wanna tell me why your birthday freaks you out, kid?"

Matt didn’t flinch exactly, but his fingers went a little rigid under the brush.

"How do you know my real – how do you know when my birthday is?"

"Toldja," John reminded him. "I saw your DOB at the hospital. October 31st? You don’t forget a date like that."


"Fine. Well. What makes you think it freaks me out? As you so tactfully pointed out when you thought I was trying to get into your daughter's pants – I'm already past my best before date, right? 'No guy over thirty's gonna touch her’? Why would this one be a big deal?"

"Maybe it's not," John said. He could be patient, stick to a line of questioning. He knew what the kid was about, trying to throw him off the scent with that crack about Lucy. Matt seemed to be in a mood, and John wasn’t going to get riled up and join him. "Maybe it’s always like this. Maybe it’s like you just said about hoping to avoid it this year."

"Cop," Matt agreed, rolling his eyes just a little, but being careful not to move his hand as John finished the last touches to his thumb. "Always like what?"

"Look, I may not be a supergenius like you, but it wouldn't even take a detective to figure this out. The nail biting, the insomnia..."

"John, really, the insomnia thing isn’t a big deal, I’m totally used to it, I just take advantage of the extra time to work. And I told you, I bite my nails all the time, but my skin gets dry around this time of year, as soon as these pre-hisoric forced-air furnaces come on it’s like a veritable desert in every..."

Matt stopped talking as John reached across him to open the medicine cabinet and extract a new bottle of prescription pills that had appeared in the past week.

"Got an explanation for the migraines too?" Imitrex. Turned out that Google-hunting business was good for something.

Matt looked at John, and for a second John thought he was going to snap and give him hell. Kid was dogged though.

Matt pushed his head against the doorframe and rocked it a little in frustration, his hair crumpled and bunched up against the wall in that way that always made John want to smooth and fix it. There were times he swore everything about Matt was engineered to trigger this response in him. A deep and almost instinctive desire to provide and to protect. The softness of that hair, those big puppy-eyes, the angular, nearly fine, lines of his neck, jutting shoulders, and long-fingered hands. All of it conspired against him, made shit like this whole sideways conversation feel as painful and crap-filled for John as it looked like it was for Matt.

John hated having to pry where he wasn’t wanted, but this is what it had come down to. And he could deal with this, it happened all the time. Daily. Every move Matthew made; every Christmas-morning grin, the frantic hand gestures when he talked, the way he made that little whimper-sound in any time of consternation, every hunch of shoulders and pout and wrinkling of his nose. Matt was so open, so obvious about everything he felt, and that made him vulnerable. John both loved and despised it about him, because he didn’t want anybody else taking advantage. And that tended to fire up that over-protection issue of John’s.

But being way too expressive for his own good also made the kid a shitty liar, even though he tried it often enough. And he was trying it now.

"In the fall," Matt said after a deep breath, "the barometric pressure..."


Matt might be stubborn, but he knew when he was busted, too. He dropped the excuse and pivoted so he was facing John, with his head still tipped against the doorframe. John gave in to temptation and brushed his hair back where it was falling into his eyes. Matt couldn’t do it with his nail polish still wet, after all.

"Like I said, I’m just tryin’ to help, here. I know it’s gotta be tough around the holidays, what with being an orphan."

"Orphan?" Matt straightened up and looked John in the eye. "What? I’m not an orphan, McClane." John registered the used of the last name, as Matt took a step backward into the bathroom, putting some space between them.

John wasn’t sure when the flip had occurred. There were still times a ‘John’ from Matt’s lips shot a thrill through him, but at some point they’d reached the stage where – if it wasn’t paired with a spritely sparkle of eyes and pang of sarcasm – hearing Matt call him ‘McClane’ sent him an odd chill.

"C’mon, kid. The nurse at the hospital told me you were a ward of the state."

"Yeah, I was. Ward. Ward, not orphan. Not like, please-sir-can-I-have-some-more, orphan."

John was missing something. Was ‘orphan’ a dirty word in hacker-speak or something?

"Relax, it’s not like I’m sayin’ you’re some kind of panhandlin’ squeegee kid."

"No." Matt said, with an air of forced patience. "But you said orphan. That’s not...orphans don’t have parents. Or, okay, they have dead parents. My parents aren’t dead. They’re just assholes."

John wasn’t prepared for that. He should have had a better response than the one that fell out of his mouth before he could shut it.

"...You have parents that aren’t dead."

"Well maybe they are by now. I wouldn’t actually know."

Matt shouldered his way past John and out of the bathroom, and all but flounced off down the hall, shaking his hands either to dry them or to work out some of his obvious ire.

And John wasn’t gonna lie, he was floored. He had no fuckin’ idea what to do with his new information.


John spent the next hour or so consumed with Matt’s admission, his strange behaviour, and his general all-round moodiness.

Matt seemed fine at dinner though, blathering on about pearls and camels and penguins, and something computer-y John tuned out, having to do with a bazaar in a cathedral. That is, he seemed fine until John tried to bring up the subject of his birthday again.

"So about this day you got coming up on Wednesday, what do we do? Do you throw a great big nerd she-bang with a lot of people hepped up on Red Bull, playing with dolls?"

"It’s not a big deal," Matt shrugged as he said this, as if that made it true. "Halloween kind of trumps birthday with us anyway. Warlock likes to take advantage of any and every opportunity to drag out his Qui-Gon costume." Matt pushed his chicken around on his plate.

"Maybe I’ll make the trip out to Baltimore on Tuesday. We usually just get a few people together and set up a quick LAN party, or I could take my old Magic decks and if there’s even numbers we can get a power cube going."

"Alright," John answered. "But you know you’re welcome to have it here, doncha, your land party? Or whatever that cube thing is. And it doesn’t just have to be Freddy. You must have somebody you want to invite, foster parents or..."

"Foster– ? Yeah, no."

"No?" That couldn’t be right. Kid had to grow up living somewhere.

"Hi, oh, it’s nice to meet you, I’m Matt Farrell." Matt stuck his smart-ass hand out over the table, like he expected John to actually shake. "Ex-black hat hacker? Former threat to National Security? They didn’t send me to foster care, McClane, I went to juvie. Okay?"

Matt pushed his chair back from the table and started clearing up.

"Do not pass Go, do not collect ...sketchy fake family. Which, thank God for that really. One less set of freaks for the side show that is my life."

John had never heard Matt talk like this. And he’d seen Matt freaked out and panicked and threatened and kidnapped and roughed up and shot. Never once had he been so...negative?

John got up and followed Matt into the kitchen to help with the cleanup.

Bitter might be the word he was looking for. Because, yeah, Matt complained a lot, but it was just sort of a general whiny pay-attention-to-me-I’m-matt-and-I’m-cute sort of grumbling. This was different. It had venom behind it. It was anger.

"How long?" John asked, quietly.

Matt didn’t pretend to need clarification this time, he just answered the question.

"Two years."

His tone was bland. John pushed it.

"And when you came out? ...Got out?"

Matt wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t manage a smart-alecky smirk at that. He took John’s plate and scraped it over the trash.

"When I got out, I was five months from my birthday and it takes way longer than that to clear child services anyway. I went to this group home that was...God, it was worse than detention, I swear. And then it was, you know, I was fine. I worked for a couple years, different jobs. And when I had the cash together I went back to school. I got my certification, and they let me within fifty feet of a computer again. I went white-hat, found my own place and, you know, whatever people do right?"

John didn’t know. He obviously didn’t know anything. This kid, who was his life now, his everything – John’s mornings and his midnights, and the space in between was just killing time until he could get Matt in his arms again – this was his Matt, and he didn’t know who he was holding at all. He’d never taken the time to find out. That was changing. Now.

It didn’t occur to him until much later that he might not like what he found out.


"There’s nothing I can tell you about me that you probably don’t already know from my record," Matt said, when John pointed out later that night that he usually made it a habit to get to know the people he shared a bed with.

"Your record? Gimme a break kid, I haven’t read your file."

"You never once got curious? All those hours avoiding me last month, hanging around the precinct at night with nothing to do?"


"You read it. You did." Matt reached out over the covers and pinched John on the nipple.

"No I didn’t," John chuckled. "I couldn’t. ...You’re classified. Highly classified. What the hell did you do, kid?"

"I – really? Classified?" Matt looked up at the ceiling, clearly considering something. "Figures."

"I’ll make you a deal," John pressed. "You tell me everything about Matthew Farrell. And then I’ll do anything Matthew Farrell wants."

Matt snapped his gaze back to John, licked his lips. "Anything?"

"As long as you don’t have a ball gag stashed away somewhere, or nothin’."

"Hmmm. Fresh outta ball-gags, can’t help you there. And my massive collection of nipple clamps and bull whips got blown up in Camden. Oh, hey, there’s hand-cuffs in a drawer down stairs."

"Careful kid, those are in there ‘cause I lost the key. Now are you gonna take the deal and spill it or do I have to start interrogation tactics?"

It hadn’t taken John long to discover Matt was ticklish under his arms and on the bottoms of his feet, just like an actual kid. He wouldn’t giggle and thrash uncontrollably the way a kid did though, but he would grin and get twitchy; try to fight John off with impish pinching and sometimes even biting. John probably shouldn’t do it so much, or it would lose its power of persuasion, but he had to admit he did find the way Matt squirmed and gyrated to get away from his attacking fingers sorta adorable.

What John did now though was nothing more than a threat – ran his hand up Matt’s side and dragged his fingernails over the little rise where the meat of his lat muscle ran up into his armpit. Worked though.

"Fine fine! You really are cruel and definitely unusual, you know that?" Matt grinned, and then sighed. "Where do I start?"

"Start at the start."

"Of what, my whole life?"

"Could it hurt?"

Matt widened his eyes like maybe it could, but for once he didn’t have a smart answer.

"Alright. Since you already know when I was born, I can tell you who. Up ‘til almost exactly one decade ago, I was Daniel Matthew Jacob Carter." Matt delivered this mouthful with a see-sawing of his head and an ironic sing-song tone. He cast John a warning look which plainly said that if he ever wanted to get laid again he would never, ever repeat it.

So Matt wasn’t even ‘Matt’. Quite the start. Maybe this could hurt after all, but John wasn’t about to interrupt, now that he’d finally gotten Matt talking. Not that the kid ever stopped talking. This was important though, this was good, and John nodded encouragingly.

"My biological father’s name is Daniel Kennedy. And that’s all my mother really ever said about him. That, and the fact he ran off back to Boston the minute he heard she was pregnant. I never met him."

"Kennedy from Boston, huh?" John shouldn’t have said that. Not out loud. Matt rolled his eyes.

"No relation. Okay, a small, really really distant relation. Don’t go getting any ideas or looking anybody up, okay Columbo? Or else I shouldn’t be telling you any of this. Maybe I should stop. It’s classified, remember? Strictly need-to-know. Do you need to know?"

It didn’t escape John’s notice that Matt said the name was all his mother had told him, not that it was all he knew. If this dead-beat had ever touched a computer in his life, chances were Matt knew damn near every last thing there was to know about one Daniel Kennedy. John wasn’t making any promises himself. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from saying so, and just raised an eyebrow instead.

"My mother married a guy named Gregory Carter when she was still pregnant with me," Matt continued, after making a sceptical little moue.

Matt was convinced his mother and step-father had never loved each other. His mother, Elizabeth Farrell, had been in a desperate spot being young and pregnant, and the only daughter of a powerful and locally revered Judge named Jacob Farrell. Although nobody had ever said such a thing, Matt was sure his mother had married the first man that would have her, just to avoid her pregnancy out of wedlock being a blot on the Farrell name, and that Greg Carter had simply been in it for the money. Which, it turned out, Matt’s family had more than enough of.

Matt was from Connecticut originally, which John already knew, but he was pretty sure it was sarcasm when he said his home town was "Stepford". His grandmother had sadly passed away due to cancer long before he was born, but he had loved his grandfather and spent most of his early childhood staying with him. But old Jake Farrell died when Matt was seven, and it sounded like that was when his home life took something of a turn for the worse.

"My mother didn’t deal with it well," Matt said, "Or maybe my father got worse when my grandpa died because he knew the old man couldn’t do anything about him now, you know? Well anyway, she drank. I didn’t really get it at the time but you know how hindsight works…pretty classic pattern. My father – or stepfather I guess? – had kind of a funny idea of discipline. Don’t think – I mean he didn't, like, stub cigarettes out on me or anything but he liked confinement."

John’s blood ran cold.


"Yeah. You know, if I did something that pissed him off, he'd like, lock me in my room or in the closet for punishment."

"What? Matthew, that isn’t discipline. That is – "

"I know what it is," Matt cut him off sharply. "You can relax, it’s over. It’s not like I’m going to have a six-pack of kids and pass on the cycle of abuse." John wondered what was showing on his face because Matt stopped and his voice dropped a notch "…John. I can stop any time. Do you want me to quit telling you this shit?"

Absolutely. Not on your life. Damn good question. John didn’t want to hear it. But that didn’t mean he wanted Matt to stop telling. He had been ready for Matt’s past to surprise him, to shake him up and confuse him even, but not to make him angry.

"No," John said firmly, and made a mental vow not to interrupt again. "I want to get to know you. This is you." Apparently.

"It’s not me," Matt said, searching for John’s hand under the sheets and grabbing ahold. "This is me."

He drew John’s hand forward and pressed it flat against his chest, covered it with both of his own.

"You do know me. Better than literally anyone. What I am, what I do every day. What I was…" Matt shrugged awkwardly against the mattress and John could feel the shift of his sinewy muscles over bone, Matt’s heart beating, whole and steady, under his ribs. "That’s done. Now it’s just a story."

John couldn’t argue with that, he supposed. He twisted his hand palm up, so he could interlace their fingers, and leaned in to press his mouth over Matt’s. He kept it chaste and short. John didn’t want to get off the subject. Well maybe he did but…

"Tell me," he said. And hoped this story wasn’t going to end up sounding just like another night mare.

"So… you don’t need specifics but there were a couple of times I ended up shut in my closet. And then one time he, I don’t know, forgot or went out or something, and I ended up left in there for about four hours. I couldn't get to the bathroom and....well I'm not going to get into details, but when he let me out he was literally pissed." Matt was looking down at their clasped hands now, avoiding John’s eyes.

"He tried to…" Matt made a shoving motion with the hand that wasn’t wrapped around John’s palm. "You know, like you do with a dog."

"To what, rub your nose in it?" John could hear the disgust and outrage in his own voice.

"Ouch," Matt said. John had tried to make a fist. He loosened his hold on Matt’s hand.

"He tried," Matt said. "But I was starting to get bigger and get a bit of an attitude too, I guess." That, John could imagine. "I fought back."

John squeezed Matthew’s hand again. Gently this time, in approval.

"Yeah, well. It didn’t work. He made me clean it up and he gave me a black eye into the deal. He used to wear these…big gaudy rings – it’s how I got this." Matt used his free hand to point out a little scar between his eyebrows.

John had noticed it before but he’d always just assumed some little childhood bump, running with scissors, that sort of shit. Jack had one just like it from rolling around in the grass with a stick held up to his eye like a shotgun. John had nearly knocked his teeth out on the edge of a little red wagon headed downhill at a pretty good clip, just around the same age. Never in a million years could John have guessed. He felt tired.

"Where was your mother while all this shit was going on?"

"Right there. She knew, she saw everything."

"She didn’t do anything to stop this?"

"Nothing she had to put her drink down to do," Matt said bitterly, before he went on in a more even tone. "It didn’t last long enough anyway. She said ‘Greg, stop’ when he tried to push my head down, but after that it was really just a couple useless swings from me. And then that one big, backhand."

John let go of Matt’s hand and rubbed at his forehead. He was getting a headache, now.

"It was the first time he hit me, and it got turned into a really big deal when I went back to school with my face all messed up. I told everyone this story, about how I got jumped by bullies on my way home, but I don’t know whether anyone bought it or not. It was a private school and people just didn’t like to…who knows what kind of rumours went around under the white-collar radar. I had this one really good teacher though, Mr Vargas, the one who signed me up for Space Camp. He had seen stuff like that before probably. He wanted to report it, but I begged him not to. I was 11 and the whole story just totally embarrassed me. He probably figured anything that could come of it would just be worse for me anyway. And that was it, really."

In the end, it was exactly like a nightmare. Except this time Matt wasn’t the one with the shakes.

"Hey," Matt said, scooting closer and stretching his arm across John’s body to give a short squeeze. "It was years ago. Ancient history."

John turned his nose into Matt’s hair. He inhaled deep and slow. When he could trust his hand to be steady, he reached for Matt’s own and pulled it up for inspection.

"I hurtcha? When I squashed your fingers there?"

"Nah. Just being a drama queen. It burns calories. True story, look it up."

Matt really did seem to be okay. John could feel the corner of his mouth tugging upward a little.

"You know what?" John studied Matt’s fingers for a moment longer. "The black might be an improvement, can’t see any blood anymore."

"Like it?" Matt laughed. "Trick or treat."

"C’mere, I’ll show you a trick."

Matt hissed air through his teeth as John pushed one of those glossy-nailed fingers into his mouth. The taste was definitely an improvement, too.

"I think I know this trick," Matt babbled, as John swirled his tongue, getting that finger good and slick. "In fact. I love this trick. Do it right and you’ll definitely get a treat out of it."

"I did promise to do anything Matthew Farrell wants," John said, releasing his morsel with a pop, and moving on to digit number two.

"About time. I’ve been Matthew Farrell for ten years this Wednesday."

John paused in guiding Matt’s wet fingers down below the sheets.

"What were you before? Not D-"

"No." Matt had that warning smirk in place again. "Just Matt. Matt Carter." He frowned a little, but brightened as John resumed showing him where his hand really ought to be.

"I like Matt Farrell much better."

"That works out, because he likes you. Especially when you…yeah. That. He reeeeally likes that."

That made two of them.




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