Orbits, Drift

Act 1

The first few days in the hospital pass by in a drug-addled blur, brief spots of awareness stark between the bliss of finally being able to crash after a 36-hour non-caffeine-aided adrenaline overload. The first couple of times Matt shudders awake during this period, his brain coughs up a hazy: whoa, what a dream before the sonavabitch pain in his knee kicks in with a reality check.

People in uniforms (white/blue/black) wander in and out to ask and/or tell him stuff, and though Matt vaguely remembers offering answers, the actual words spoken slip and slide over each other without purchase, like his brain has gone into read-only mode right now and please, would you go back to sleep? Yes, sleep is good.

Lucidity finally kicks in around day three, post-surgery, which the doctor says is a good sign. Matt nods and is glad for any excuse to be optimistic, but when the doctor and his motley crew of friendly nurses leave, Matt’s all alone in his completely uninteresting room.

Okay, he is grateful that the clouds in his head have cleared, but the downside is that he now has all this free time and no distractions but a television he refuses to turn on and a Sudoku book that just makes him grieve all over again for his dearly departed hardware. He’d previously believed with absolute certainty that Matthew Farrell was a self-sufficient and self-reliant individual perfectly capable of fitting the Independent Man motto, but apparently being alone isn’t half as possible in Matt’s world without a shitload of peripheries.

With nothing to do but sit tight and get better, Matt’s mind wanders all over the place, parsing the then and the now and the holy shit all that actually happened stuff. At the time, it had been pretty much just do, survive, get to the finish line – so now he can sit back and review the slideshow in his head.

The sights are surreal and make Matt feel small.

Propelled by the sudden need for connection and Matt’s general inability to think more than two steps ahead, he fumbles for the call nurse button. The day nurse is more than happy to oblige Matt’s request for pen and paper, and just nods when he asks that it be delivered to McClane, J. whatever room he might be in.

Matt falls asleep after that, and when he wakes up, the paper is back on his breakfast table with a reply scratched on the other side: I’d tap dance, but I don’t have my hat and cane.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the day’s entertainment.

It’s pathetic how much it makes Matt laugh.

+ + +

Lucy turns up the next day, armed with a smile and a deck of cards.

Matt’s kind of stunned, but it’s such a relief to finally see someone without a name tag that he doesn’t question it lest she change her mind. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself,” Lucy says. She pulls out the chair next to his bed and repositions his wheely breakfast table to the space between them. “You do play poker, I hope.”

“If I say no?” Matt asks.

“I’d spend ten minutes teaching the basics, then fleece you for all you’ve got,” Lucy says.

Matt finds himself relaxing already. “I prefer Hold ’Em. You can deal, though.”

“I wasn’t going to offer,” Lucy says, cards snapping between her fingers.

Matt doesn’t expect anything other than ending up on the losing side. It isn’t that big a deal, but Lucy is smirking so much that he has to complain out loud. “Geez, Lucy, don’t you have any human decency? You’re taking advantage of an invalid, here!”

Lucy appears to think about it. “Sounds good to me. Now bet or fold, already.”

“Call,” Matt says, and takes another card. They play quietly for a while, working their way through various permutations of unnecessary small talk until Matt says, “How’s John? Uh, I mean your dad, the John, your dad John McClane, who is your dad.”

“Doing better than you,” Lucy says. “He’s down the hall.”

“Shouldn’t you be with him?” Matt asks. “I mean, don’t you have catching up to do, or whatever?”

Lucy gives him a look. “Just play, Farrell.”

“I’ve been threatened by the best, McClane,” Matt says, and he enjoys the way it sharpens her smirk. “Try harder.”

Kinda late to grow balls, don’t you think?” Lucy says.

They keep playing for maybe an hour, and after Lucy leaves, Matt receives a note from the day nurse in an already familiar block hand: She cheats.

For a moment Matt is startled, because it’s only a note that came by, and not John himself with a baseball bat.

When he recovers, he answers: Something else she learned from you, gotcha. PS. I just had my knee stuck back together. Not getting beaten to death would be greatly appreciated.

He expects that to be it, so he’s further surprised when another reply drops by: I know when you’re asleep.

Matt doesn’t have the heart to respond that the threat’s not scary at all, so he doesn’t.

+ + +

The MA who brings his breakfast tilts her head in a suspicious way when Matt asks that the message be delivered down the hall. But the important thing is that she doesn’t comment or refuse, and the message is off on its merry way.

I have porridge. What do you have? If it’s something good, please lie.

Matt takes so long eating that by the time another nurse comes by with the reply, he’s still at it and the stuff’s gone cold. John’s answer is: Porridge.

It’s no substitute for IM, but it’s something.

Matt’s going stone cold turkey, and if it weren’t for his lame leg, he’d totally be bouncing off the walls by now. It’s nice to know that John’s also cooped up in a room not that different from his, and this little thing of flying paper is like tapping the wall in Morse, sharing their pain of white sheets and needles.

Cold turkey, dude.

+ + +

The next time Lucy drops by, she has a deck of lovingly-worn Uno cards, and though Matt hasn’t played the game in years, he remembers the rules clear as anything. Lucy’s pout when he points out her bullshit is to die for.

“Power cards don’t work that way,” Matt says.

“Of course they do,” Lucy insists. “Reverse, reverse, skip, so it’s my turn again and—”

“Your skip isn’t even the same color!” Matt says. “How is that even logical? If I could buy that you can lump your power cards together, there’s no way—”

“Fine, my god, I won’t use the damn skip if it’ll just stop your damn whining,” Lucy says. “There, your move.”

“I bet you didn’t bring the rule book on purpose,” Matt says, drawing new cards from the deck.

“It’s not my fault you suck,” Lucy says. After a while, she says, “Hey, did the doctor say if you can move around yet?”

“He said no, because he’s a bitch,” Matt says. “Or is it my knee that’s the bitch, I can’t remember.”

“Geez, Farrell, let me know how you really feel.”

“I mean, would it be too much to ask for a little fresh air?” Matt says. “I wouldn’t mind trying out a wheelchair. Chicks dig wheels, right?”

Lucy makes a piss poor job of trying not to laugh. “Yes. Chicks dig wheels.”

“I mean, what the hell man,” Matt says, and his cards are still awful like his life digs this pattern of suck. “John’s just down the hall and I can’t even drop by to say hey, how’re ya doing, or thank you, or whatever. Not that he’d appreciate it, he probably gets that all the time. Okay, no. That was a shitty thing to say. So don’t tell him I said it.”

It’s Lucy’s turn, and she draws a card. “You really are going stir-crazy.”

Shyeah!” Matt says.

Lucy’s good at this whole just being there, and Matt wonders about the lifetime of training it took to get where she is today. Her mouth is a mirror of John’s, and sometimes her eyes match his as well, but not at the moment.

These are the thoughts in Matt’s head, because he really doesn’t have anything else to think about.

“Uno,” Lucy says, grinning.

“Try again, Lucy McClane,” Matt says, and puts down a pair of Plus Fours.

Lucy huffs and draws the cards.

“It’s harder to cheat with Uno,” Matt says.

“What?” Lucy says, startled. A second later, her eyes narrow. “You ought to know better than to believe anything my father says.”

“Funny thing,” Matt says, and wins the round.

+ + +

Matt isn’t ready for when John suddenly strides into his room, bold as brass and mouth wide with a grin that has nothing to do with helicopters exploding.

John starts, “How’re you—?”

“Why are you walking about?” Matt says. “How is it that you are walking around while I’m still fucking stuck in this fucking bed, it’s not even humanly possible!”

“Lucky, I guess,” John says. “Want to see my stitches?”

No,” Matt says. “I can’t even look at my own, thank you very much.”

“They still pumping you full of painkillers then?”

“For which I am eternally grateful,” Matt says. “Though they’ve started weaning me off, the bastards.”

John settles into the chair next to Matt’s bed, easy as anything. The smattering handiwork of stitches and bandages across his person look inadequate, because Matt had been there to witness the abuse sustained by this particular human body, and there’s no way that this is all that John’s got to walk away with.

John has to be, like, a secret government cyborg, or something.

“The splint holding?” John says.

“I have no idea,” Matt says.

Then because John has no sense of propriety, he reaches out and yanks Matt’s blanket of modesty away, revealing the hedgehog of plaster and steel around his knee. John considers the sight, eyebrows rising and falling. “It’s not that bad, kid.”

“Really?” Matt says, taking John’s word for it. Matt doesn’t like looking at it, as though looking makes it more real somehow. But then John is moving, and Matt frowns. “What—what are you doing?”

“I need some fresh air,” John says. He’s bringing a wheelchair out of a closet near the door (Matt didn’t even know his room had a closet). Matt stares while John parks it near the bed and turns to look at him.

“Well?” John says.

A protest is waiting on his lips, but Matt swallows it because he really, really, really wants to see something other than these four walls. “Don’t fuck up my knee, okay? Well, um, fuck it up more, is what I mean.”

Yadda yadda promise,” John says, and opens his arms.

It’s a little bit awkward because Matt can only cling to John’s left side, hanging like a helpless little monkey to a shoulder that shouldn’t feel like steel bands but does. They grunt and wobble a little but hurray, there’s no explosion of pain in Matt’s knee, and soon enough he’s in the wheelchair, John kneeling down to prop up the splint like he’s done it a hundred times over.

“It’s probably a mistake to let you drive again,” Matt says as John starts wheeling him towards the door. 

“Probably,” John says.

“Oh well, beats being stuck in this joint. And we’re off!” Matt claps his hands, and gets a knock at the back of his head for his enthusiasm.

They manage to get to the elevator and down to the ground floor for a full lap of the premises – Matt making race car noises all the way – before the day nurse hunts them down and makes them return to their rooms. John charms her into not reporting them to the doctor while Matt rolls his eyes and picks at the plaster of paris.

Later, Matt falls asleep and dreams that a secret government cyborg project team surreptitiously installed bionic legs on him during his surgery. It’s disappointing when he wakes up and, nope, the knee is still busted. Damn.

+ + +

It’s a surprise and a half when the next time Lucy drops by, she isn’t alone. At first Matt thinks that it’s another Fed coming to grill him, but he’s pretty sure Feds don’t smile like that to potential cyber terrorists.

“Hello, I’m Holly, Lucy’s mom,” she says, offering him her hand.

It’s an unexpected snap to the gut, and Matt only belated remembers to shake her hand and not look like a moron when he does it. It shouldn’t be a shock to meet Holly Gennero in person, not when the only thing Matt knows about her is a single passing reference in the longest speech he’s ever heard from John uninterrupted, but it is.

There’s a face to her now, and – oh yeah, Matt can see where Lucy gets those eyes.

“It’s um…” Matt says, unsure. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Matt,” Holly says. She sits in the chair, breathing out something that’s almost a sigh but not quite. Lucy is leaning against the door frame, fiddling with her phone and apparently not paying attention to them whatsoever.

Holly saves Matt from having to come up with anything pithy to say when she cuts right to it: “So I hear you need a place to stay.”

That sends Matt reeling a little. He has been thinking about it, but it’s weird to hear her say it aloud. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Ah, good.” Holly reaches into her handbag and takes out a Blackberry.

Matt’s fingers twitch as he watches her press the keys, because although he’s promised the Feds upwards and downwards and in blood that he’s going to be a good little boy, he craves.

“Do you have any preferences?” Holly asks.

Matt’s about to say that he’s a Linux whore, but he catches himself in time. “Sorry, what?”

“Price range, floor space, location?” Holly asks “Preferences. You know what, just sleep on it. Tell Lucy whenever you figure out what you want, and I’ll draw up some suggestions.”

Matt flushes. “There’s really no need—”

“Price range, floor space, location, other specifics, that sort of thing,” Holly says, standing up. “I’ve heard that there’s quite a compensation check waiting for when you’re out of here, so perhaps you should start thinking about what you’d like to do with it. You’ll need somewhere to go eventually.”

Matt wants to protest, but it’s true. He will have to go somewhere eventually, but he’d already figured out that the best chance he has is to crash at one of his guildmates’ places – sure, he hasn’t been in contact with them lately thanks to the internet silence thing, but he’s sure that at least one of them will be willing to put up with him for a couple of weeks. Then again, he will eventually have to start looking for his own place, and Holly, well, it’s not like she’s actually offering him money

“He’s very grateful, and says thank you,” Lucy says, pushing herself away from the doorframe. “Thanks, mom.”

“Okay hon, see you in a bit?” Holly touches her daughter’s shoulder. They’re both about the same height, with the same sharp eyes and hair tint, though Lucy definitely has her father’s smile.  

Then Holly looks at Matt, smiling a little like they’re sharing a joke. “Lunch with John. Wish me luck.” The tone is affectionate, and that’s the most surprising part of all.

Matt watches Holly leave, then turns to Lucy, who’s taking a travel Scrabble kit out of her bag.

“Was that some sort of test or something?” Matt asks.

“If it was, you probably failed,” Lucy says.

They sift through the tiles while Matt thinks about his potential new pad and all the planning and headaches that come with having to start from scratch.

“You really didn’t have to,” Matt says.

“Didn’t have to what?” Lucy says.

“Ask your mom to do that,” Matt says.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Lucy says, and it’s like she’s laughing at him. “Also, it’s your turn.”

“Yeah yeah,” Matt says, and he arranges his tiles on the board.

He replays Holly’s words in his head, thinking of how the soft wistfulness of her tone echoes the brief car conversation interlude that was (to Matt) the first evidence of how John McClane is human (and not a cyborg). It would be the perfect ending to the story if this makes Holly realize what a fucking awesome person John McClane is, and there would be hearts and kisses and swirling music while the moving reunion of the decade repairs a family torn asunder—

Lucy’s snapping her fingers in his face. “Focus, Farrell!”

“What—what? Oh, right,” Matt looks down at his tiles. He fiddles with them for a bit, eventually finding a passable word. “Your mom’s nice.”

“Thanks,” Lucy says.

Matt’s imagining John and Lucy and Holly as a unit, and how that must’ve looked like way back when. As it sometimes happens, his mouth goes for it before getting the green light from his brain.

“Do you think your parents will get back together?” he says.

Lucy’s gaze moves slowly, like a tractorbeam warming up. “That was way inappropriate, Farrell.”

Matt flushes and looks away quickly. “I know, it’s just… After all that John’s been through, it’s just…”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Lucy says. She doesn’t seem offended, and manages to score a double points word.

Matt tells himself that that’s it, he’s not going to be a douche poking around where he has no business poking around, but after a few more words and a bit of arguing on the validity of using non-continental spellings, Lucy’s the one who brings it up.

“My dad’s kind of an asshole,” Lucy says.

“That makes you an asshole by proxy, you know,” Matt says.

Lucy’s mouth draws into a thin line. “My dad... He’s always been good at the big things. He’s awesome at the big things, like tearing across the country to save someone he loves from terrorists—kind of big, but you already know that. It’s the little things that trip him up.” She meets his gaze, and continues, “I know what you’re thinking: why sweat the small stuff, right? The thing is, even small stuff adds up in the end.”

“That sucks,” Matt says.

“It does, but at least they’re not the sort that scream at each whenever they’re within a 10 foot radius,” Lucy says. “They’re still friends, sort of.”

“Like you’re Lucy McClane, sort of,” Matt says.

“Fuck you, sort of,” Lucy says. “C O G N A C, eighteen points.”

+ + +

John joins him for dinner.

It’s easy to pull off because apparently all the nurses on their floor adore John and are more than happy to accommodate him. Matt takes five minutes to get used to the novelty of eating a meal with somebody else, and because his filters are weaker around John than they are around Lucy, the word vomit comes.

“I’m going fucking nuts here, man,” Matt says. “I almost – almost – turned on the tv, that’s how bored I am, it’s insane. I’ve been in hospitals before but this, this is royally shitty, and I’m not even allowed a laptop – can you imagine how insane my inbox has to be by now?”

“Even if you were allowed, you don’t have a laptop to use,” John points out.

“True, true!” Matt says. “But I would be free to get one, by perfectly legitimate means. What am I, broke? No, I’ll have you know that I’m a prudent investor and one of the bad-ass survivors of the dot com bust thanks to my wily business sense and it’s so weird, your ex-wife came by and offered to look up places for me, isn’t that weird?”

John shrugs, a piece of something (potato?) in his mouth.

Matt goes on, his mouth mostly on autopilot because he has, like, weeks’ worth of grievances bottled up and waiting for an outlet. The frowny bit of John’s forehead isn’t crinkling too badly, so that has to be a sign that the red light isn’t up yet and he isn’t due for John doing something like throwing his fork at Matt’s bad knee to shut him up.

And as he talks, Matt watches John eat. Matt himself has no finesse, so it’s lucky that anything gets into his trap at all the way it’s flapping, but John moves slowly, his left hand careful and precise in its movements, like eating hospital food isn’t some sort of corporal punishment.

It’s interesting.

Matt wonders if the way John went about stopping cyber-armageddon is the way he goes about doing everything else in life, i.e. with clear goals, shitty plans and moaning all the way like he’s taking out the trash. Then Matt wonders how someone can function like that on a daily basis. Maybe he doesn’t; maybe regular John is someone completely different.

Matt’s curious.

“How long are you off sick? From work, I mean,” he asks.

“Too long, if Lou has his way,” John says. “Even when I head back, it’ll be desk time for me.”

“You’re not gonna take that lying down,” Matt says, and there’s John’s smirk, appearing like clockwork. He doesn’t mean to say it aloud, but he does: “I knew you were gonna do that. That smirky thing.”

“What can I say?” John says, shrugging with one shoulder. “I’m a predictable guy.”

“Quitting is for other people, huh.”

“Got it in one.”

Matt knows better to believe in truth ‘n justice, but he does believe that karma is a fearsome bitch. The way things went down, John’s got to be shitting gold one of these days. Matt hopes so, anyway.

+ + +

Lucy continues to visit him even after John is discharged (the lucky bastard), though her appearances are stretched out further between. But that’s okay, because Matt has his physical therapy sessions to distract him now, and despite the frustration and inappropriate cursing, it’s a nice change to be able to fall asleep exhausted at the end of the day.

At least John isn’t around to see him be more pathetic, thank goodness for small miracles.

Lucy doesn’t count; she thinks he’s pathetic regardless.

Case in point: they’re playing Go Fish because he’s lost every single poker game so far.

“Eight,” Lucy says. “How long you got left?”

“Go Fish,” Matt says. “Two weeks at the most, that’s what they said.”

“Ah,” Lucy says. “Got any plans?”

Matt nods. “I’ve got a few options open, shouldn’t be too hard.”

Surprisingly, that makes Lucy go, “What?” She sits up ramrod straight, like he’s personally offended her.


“My dad went back to set up his apartment for you, that’s what,” Lucy says, and she’s definitely annoyed now. “I assumed it was because it was a done deal. Dammit, John.”

Lucy reaches into her bag for her cell, and though Matt’s hands dart out to stop her, she’s fast and has use of both her legs. Soon enough she’s bent over her phone and saying, “Dad?”

Matt groans and tries to scoot backward, but there’s nowhere to go other than off the bed. Funnily enough, the floor is less inviting than the embarrassment of having to talk to John.

“You didn’t even ask him!” Lucy’s saying into the phone. “I can’t believe you. What? Yeah, he’s here.”

The phone is shoved in Matt’s face. Technically, he’s not allowed to use them yet, but whatever. “Hey, John.”

John’s voice is static-y, like he’s driving. “You okay to stay with me until you get a new place worked out?”

“Sure,” Matt says.

“Good. Now please hang up before Lucy rips me a new one.”

Matt does as he’s told, and tries not to laugh at the sound Lucy makes.

She grabs the phone from him and says, “I’ll make you pay for that, Farrell.”

Gonna shoot my other knee?” Matt says brightly, because yes, the world is considerably less sucky right now.

+ + +

On the morning that Matt gets discharged, he wakes up with his stomach in knots. Relief, excitement and dread are all jammed up in his throat, and even he knows that’s stupid. He’s been wanting to get out of here for forever, and now that he is, there’s all those difficult questions lined up, the most important being: Now what?

Lucy arrives just after breakfast, after Matt’s all dressed and ready to leave.

“My dad’s on the way,” Lucy says. She glances at her watch. “Just thought I’d say goodbye.”

“Hey, next time you want someone to pummel at Texas Hold ‘Em, you know where to look,” Matt says.

“Gotcha,” Lucy says.

They small talk away the minutes, Lucy going on about her classes and Matt oversharing his disdain on the topic.

Then John arrives and Matt’s thrown for a loop, because he has, like, civvies on and everything. Matt’s only ever seen John in the beat-up duds of urban heroism and the white hospital garb of urban heroism recovery, so it’s a change to see him wearing other clothes, some of which have actual colors.

Matt says: “Hey, you clean up nice.”

“Gee, thanks,” John says. “Buffed up my head for you and everything. Where’s your damn crutches?”

Matt points, and the two McClanes are puttering around, getting his things, calling the nurse, getting the wheelchair ready. The knot in Matt’s stomach twists and frays – it’s going to be horrible, they’re going to run out of things to say in two days, Matt’s going to annoy him and John’s going to beat him up in his sleep and there will be tears.

“Hey, come on,” John says.

He offers one arm, and Matt takes it. As soon as his good foot is on the floor, Matt stumbles a little in trying to get his balance, and John slides inward just so, arm going around Matt’s back to take his weight like it’s nothing.

The knot eases just a little bit with the realization that if this weren’t an option, Matt Farrell would be royally fucked.

Lucy ruffles Matt’s hair and says, “Good luck, Farrell.”

“You should be wishing me good luck,” John says, kissing Lucy on the cheek.

It’s only when they’re finally in John’s car, Matt arranged all comfortably in the back, that John says, “She calls you Farrell?”

Matt blinks. “Oh, yeah.”

John doesn’t say anything to that, and since Matt can only see the back of his head, he has no way to guess what John thinks of it.

Then John turns up the classic rock, and Matt groans as he sinks into the cushions.



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


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