Situation Normal

Part 1

Six months after the Fire Sale, and everything is back to normal. Well, mostly normal. Normal-ish. John gets up every morning, gets dressed, goes to work, gets his paycheck, goes home, lifts weights, jerks off, and goes to sleep. Only now, every once in a while, he talks to Jack, to Lucy, even to Holly. No one is more surprised than he is about that.

Yeah, Holly. She'd called after it all went down, screamed at him for half an hour for putting their daughter in danger, and then, when he was mid-wince and wondering how many times he'd have to say "sorry" before it would sink in, she'd asked how he was. How he, John, was doing. And he'd found himself telling her, and she'd made sympathetic noises, and sure, it's not like it was before. It'll never be like it was before. But he's remembering how much he genuinely likes Holly, what made him fall in love with her in the first place. She's funny and sharp, no-nonsense, and she's never been afraid to tell it like it is.

They talk about the kids a lot, just chat a couple times a week, catching up. It's nice. Makes him feel a little less lonely. Sure, maybe it's not manly to admit it, but he's not so blind that he doesn't notice his own empty apartment, the way there's no one for him to talk to on weekends, the way nobody's there to notice when he comes home with a black eye from some junkie who's never heard his name and couldn't care less anyway. It sucks.

So when Holly asks if he wants to get together for Christmas, all of them, the family, he doesn't even have to think about before he's saying yes. He has more vacation time than he'll ever use, and even though he doesn't really want to go to California—ever again--the idea of seeing Jack again, spending some actual time with him and Lucy, together, it's too tempting to resist. Lucy's been busy with school, anyway, and he hasn't really had a chance to catch up with her. Find out how her love life's going. See if she's been seeing that hacker kid, that Matt. It's just curiosity, of course, he assures himself. Nothing more than that.

Once he's brushed off all the jokes from the guys at the precinct about alerting the California National Guard that he's coming, and the jokesters offering him extra guns and vests and ordnance, the idea of getting out of town is even kind of pleasant.

"John." Holly's waiting for him at the airport, which is a nice surprise, and she's smiling all big and pretty, which is even nicer. She walks into his hug, holds him close, and kisses his cheek, and he's shocked to realize that there's no sinking in his stomach, no flutter in his pulse. Just warm, friendly pleasure at seeing her, and the nice feeling of holding someone he cares about.

"Holly," he says, with a smile of his own, holding her away from himself. "Man, you look fantastic."

"Flatterer," she grins at him, shaking her curls, red now liberally sprinkled with grey. "You're not looking so bad yourself, old man."

He runs a self-conscious hand over his head, shaved clean for the occasion, then chuckles. "Old man is right. C'mon, let's get out of here. I hate airports."

"I can't imagine why." And there's that dry tone he's always liked, and she links her arm with his as they walk through the crowds to the garage. Shockingly, no one tries to shoot, stab, punch, or blow him up. He almost starts to relax.

"The kids are already here," Holly chats, negotiating out onto the freeway and into the insane LA traffic that had always driven him nuts out here. "Jack got done with finals two days ago, he's been pretty much sleeping since yesterday. And Lucy's plane landed last night, she's all settled in. They're excited to see you."

"It's gonna be nice, having everyone together," he nods, looking out the window. "Lucy mention if she's seeing anyone back at school?"

"John," Holly says warningly. "We talked about this--"

"No, hey," he protests, holding his hands up. Innocent. "Just asking. I haven't even asked her, that's how great I've been. I should be gettin' some kind of father of the year award over here, seriously. I swear, I've been leaving her totally alone about her boyfriends."

She shoots him a suspicious sideways look, but he's really and truly innocent this time, and she relaxes. "You can ask her yourself, we're almost home," she says, and he sighs. That's gonna be a fun conversation.

"What about you?" She's watching the road, so he can watch her. "You seeing anyone these days?"

"Nah." He rubs his head again. "Haven't met anyone interesting, not worth all the effort. You?"

"Yeah." She's smiling a little, even though it looks worried and tense, and he's startled all over again that he's pleased for her, happy to see her happy. "Listen, I didn't want to tell you like this, but Sean and I, we've been seeing a lot of each other, it's getting pretty--"

"Hey," he cuts her off gently. She glances over at him, and he takes her hand. Gives it a little squeeze. "I'm sure he's not good enough for you, but if you're happy, I'm happy."

"Are you okay?" She squeezes his hand back, and now she looks even more worried. "You're not sick, or anything, are you?"

He chuckles, shakes his head. "Nah. No, I'm fine. Just been doing some thinking lately, you know? I guess...I don't know. We were good, though, back in the beginning, weren't we?"

"We were pretty amazing," she agrees, and keeps holding his hand, friends, for the rest of the drive.


Maybe that conversation sets the stage for the rest of the week, maybe it's just that John really is getting more mellow in his old age, but it's the nicest weekend he's spent with his family since the kids were in grade school. He even meets Sean. The guy's kind of a pussy, but he obviously adores Holly, and after sizing him up (and reading Holly's mess-with-him-and-I-kill-you look), they manage a halfway civil conversation, about baseball, of all things. When he gets back on the plane for New York, it's with a belly full of good homecooked food, a sore shoulder from playing football with Jack in the back yard, the peace of mind from knowing that Lucy’s currently single, and more warm family feeling than he's had in years.


"McClane?" He vaguely recognizes the voice, staticky and almost unintelligible over what sounds like a bad cell connection. John hauls his holster over his head, holding the phone against his ear with one hand, kicks the door closed behind him. First day back at work, always a bitch, and he’s tired and just wants to eat and settle onto the couch and watch the game.

“Yeah, this is McClane.” He tosses his bag at the couch, walks into the tiny kitchen and opens the fridge. “Who…Matt? Kid? That you?” He hasn’t seen the kid since that last press conference. “I can barely hear you.”

“Yeah, I know.” There’s a little edge to that voice, a note of hysteria that’s strangely familiar. “I secured the line, it makes the connection shitty. Listen, hey, I’d love to catch up, but I kind of have this problem right now, and I know I said I wouldn’t bother you anymore, but I think someone’s trying to kill me.”

John freezes, head half into the fridge, and stands up straight, hand going tight on the phone. “What do you mean? Kill you? Talk to me, what’s going on. You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay right now, I’m in hiding.” The connection gets a little clearer, a little less staticky, and John can hear that panic even clearer, and his stomach lurches. “I can’t tell you about it right now, you gotta come get me, I’m not fucking around, seriously, I am in so much trouble, I’ve been getting death threats and they’re getting worse.”

“You’re fine,” John says, going for “soothing” and probably ending up somewhere around “gruff.” “You and your conspiracy theories, c’mon, Matt, I bet it’s just one of your little hacker pals fucking around with you—“

“No, no, that’s not it!” Matt’s voice is getting higher and louder, a sure sign, McClane remembers, that he’s about to flip right out. “I’m not kidding—“

“Okay! Okay, all right, I’ll come get you.” Fuck, just what he needs after a day like today, to go babysit some paranoid kid with delusions of mortal danger. “Just tell me where. And you better not say Ohio or anything like that.”

“Oh thank god, oh, thank you,” Matt babbles, the relief in his voice almost palpable, and then there’s a pause, and when he starts talking again it’s rushed, nervous. “Your phone’s not secure, it’s not safe, I can’t tell you, I gotta go. I’ll…I’ll be at that place we talked about that one time in the car, where you said you’d never be caught dead? That place, the one closest to my old apartment, the one that blew up, only make sure you buy one of those disposable cell phones on your way, okay?”

“The…what? What the fuck, Matt, what are you talking about? What place, wait—“ He’s talking to a dial tone.

That place he said he’d never be caught dead? What the hell?

Even as he’s rifling through his closet for his spare gun, packing a duffel with some shirts and an extra pair of shoes (he never goes anywhere without extra shoes), he’s running all those conversations from six months ago through his mind. He can picture them with disturbing accuracy, Matt’s eyes, the way he’d tilted his head curiously, the jitters and the grins and his weird tangents and even his smartass mouth.


He wrenches his mind away from that, and back to the subject of where the fuck he’s supposed to find Matt. “That place.” Jesus Christ, they’d talked about a million places on that endless road trip around the mid-Atlantic, and he’d learned a surprising amount about Matt, the kid couldn’t shut up on a dare. He shoulders his bag, picks up the shoulder holster again, shrugs back into it, buttons his shirt over it, his jacket over that. “That place John wouldn’t be caught dead in,” and someplace in Jersey. Camden. Fuck, there are a lot of places like that. He grabs for his car keys—and groans.


“I want a coffee.” He’s in a staredown with the girl with the pink and green stripes in her hair, and the ring in her lip, across the counter. “Just a plain coffee. No flavor, no foam, no nothing. Just coffee.”

Her lip curls as she looks him up and down. The disdain would burn if he wasn’t halfway impressed with her stones. “Just plain coffee, right,” she says, her tone flat. “What size would you like that, sir?”

“Large,” he says evenly. “Please.”

“We offer tall, grande, and venti sizes, sir,” she says, tone almost dripping with saccharine. “Which would you prefer?”

Oh, for… he leans over the counter, looking her right in the eye. “Whichever one is the LARGEST one.”

She leans right back at him, until they’re almost nose to nose. “That would be the venti, sir.

“Then that would be the one I want, don’t you think?”

“It would seem so.”

“I guess so, then.”

“Then I’ll go get that for you.”

“All right, then.” He leans back, and she sniffs, and turns back to the wall of shiny machines. It looks like a goddamn spaceship back there, and all to make a freaking cup of coffee. Insane. He hates this place so much—

“John, oh my god, thank god you figured it out, hey, hi Marisa, I need a grande skinny soy cinnamon dolce latte, extra foam, oh, Jesus, thank god you figured it out.”

Matt’s a whirlwind of huge eyes and shaky hands and babble, and John spins and braces even though he recognizes the voice as soon as the door swings open. He’s got a shoulder bag slung around his body—probably has enough computers in there to take over NASA—and he looks like he hasn’t shaved or showered or slept in days.

“Kid, slow down.” John puts his hands up, using the voice he uses on his most strung-out suspects, the ones who look like they’re gonna blow. “Yeah, I figured it out, nice choice, thanks for dragging me out to Jersey for a cup of coffee. You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Not here.” Matt looks around himself, shifting from foot to foot, staying two arms-lengths from John, keeping one eye on the door all the time. “It’s not safe. C’mon, c’mon, grab your coffee, come on, we gotta go. Thanks Marisa, catch you later, gotta run.” He reaches for the cup with one hand, and John’s arm with the other, and tugs.

“Hey! Matt, relax. I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on. Sit down, we’ll drink coffee, you can give me the rundown.” John’s actually starting to worry a little. Maybe it’s some kind of PTSD. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s seen it, especially in civilians who get caught up in the kind of shit that had gone down last summer. Maybe it’s all finally caught up to the kid, pushed him over some edge he hadn’t even known he was on.

Not here,” Matt insists, and John caves, because…because, shit, he’s missed the kid, and anyway, Matt’d proved himself pretty steady in the Fire Sale. John throws some money at the register, hopes it covers Matt’s ridiculous drink as well as his own, and lets Matt tow him out into the street.

“Where’s your car?” Matt asks quickly, quietly, still with that edge of panic, and John points, then unlocks it and lets them in. It’s his personal car, not the department vehicle…that whole LoJack thing still kinda creeps him out. “Come on, come on, drive, let’s go.” Matt’s still looking around like he’s expecting a bullet any second, and John can’t quite help but catch some of his urgency. He guns the car away from the curb and pulls into traffic, heading for the Jersey Turnpike. Lots of straight road, and rest stops every thirty feet, in case he needs to stop the car and smack some sense into Matt’s head.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on, or are we just going for a ride for our health?” he finally asks, after they’ve passed through the toll booth, and there’s nothing ahead of them but tail lights and black pavement. “Because if you called me out to fucking Jersey, on a work night, because of a bad dream, I don’t care how many times you saved my daughter’s life, I’m still gonna kick the ever-loving shit outta you.”

Matt’s got his face buried in his cup, and when he looks up, eyes still wide, he has a little foam mustache. John feels an unwilling smile pull at his own mouth. Fuck, the kid is cute. Kid. He’s gotta keep remembering that. Matt takes a deep breath, wraps both his hands around the cup like he needs the warmth, and starts talking. He sounds steadier already.

“A few weeks ago, I started getting these strange emails.”

“What, like penis enlargement, free Viagra, that shit?” John grins sideways. “You know those aren’t personal, right?”

“Oh my god,” Matt rolls his eyes, exasperation finally wiping out the fear, and John keeps grinning. “That’s spam, you neander…no, you know what? I’m not getting sidetracked here by your weird Luddite tendencies. I started getting messages, to my personal email account, my SECRET personal email account, and they were really strange. They started out friendly, asking questions about the Fire Sale. I figured it was one of my buddies just screwing with me, nobody knows that address, you know?” He takes another drink, like he needs it just to keep talking. “I just kept deleting them. But they kept coming, and whoever was sending them knew way too much about stuff from last summer. Stuff that nobody should know if they weren’t there, you know? I did some searching, and whoever’s sending the emails, they’ve covered their tracks really really well.”

He picks at the edge of the cup. “Then they started getting weirder. Messages every hour, sometimes. Talking about how the person, whoever, knew about me, about everything I’d done, everything I was doing. One or two of them totally talked about me dying, DYING, like, saying I should’ve died in the Fire Sale, that kinda stuff. And then yesterday, I found this on my keyboard.” He reaches down, digs in his messenger bag, and comes up with a post-it note. Hands it over.

John lays it against the steering wheel and squints to see in the dim light. It looks like marker, some kind of red pen, and it says “BANG U R DEAD.” Just that. He feels something cold crawl up his spine, and for the first time, he starts to really think something might be going on, here.

“They were in my place, McClane,” Matt says, urgent. “I was out getting tacos for Christ’s sake, and I came back, and everything was normal, nothing was gone, but that was there. And okay, maybe I freaked out a little, but I’m not you, okay? I’m not used to this kind of thing happening to me all the time, I didn’t know what to do. I left, and I went to my friend’s place, I set up a secure line and I called you. I didn’t know what else to do. I’ve been walking around the block for hours waiting for you to show up.”

“Jesus.” John stares at the note for a second more, then hands it back, and white-knuckles the steering wheel. “Why didn’t you go to the cops? The feds? This is some creepy shit.”

“You are the cops,” Matt says, drooping against the window. “And for all I know it’s the Feds doing it. They were super pissed when I wouldn’t take that job with them.”

“So they’re, what, cyberstalking you?” John gives Matt a skeptical look.

“Trying to freak me out. I know too much, they know I know it, and they’re all pissed off that I’m not under their control.” Matt hunches his shoulders up around his ears, sounding sulky now. And tired. “Maybe they think if I get scared enough I’ll come work for them for protection.”

“And maybe you’re a completely paranoid freak who shouldn’t be drinking any more coffee,” John points out.

“They were in my apartment,” Matt says again, and John has to concede the point.

“Did you check your shit for, I don’t know, tracking bugs or whatever?” He looks at Matt’s bag. Anyone who knows anything about Matt would realize he never goes anywhere without his gear.

Matt nods. “Yeah. I threw out all my old stuff, this is all new, even the bag, swear to god. I left everything in my place, I’m clean. Except, oh my god.” He turns huge eyes on John, he can see the whites around them. “You don’t think…when I was in the hospital…they wouldn’t put a chip in my head, right?”

“No, Matthew,” John says, patient even though he wants to laugh. “I’m pretty sure nobody put a chip in your head. We would’ve noticed the bald patch, if nothing else.”

“They could chip YOU no problem then,” Matt grumps, and John laughs.

“True enough. Okay, since nobody’s put chips in anyone’s brain, and you’re clean, what do you say we pull off here somewhere. Get a hotel room, you can get some sleep, I can make some calls.” Matt’s looking like three days of rough road, and John would like him a little more coherent than this, if shit really is going down.

“NO CALLS,” Matt stresses, chilly fingers locking on John’s forearm, and John shakes him off irritably.

“Quit grabbing me. Fine, no calls about you, but I gotta call the precinct and get tomorrow off. There’s no way I’m driving back from here tonight, so you’re stuck with me, kid.”

“Thank god,” Matt says again, heartfelt, and John can’t help but feel warmed by it. “Seriously, though, you’re not gonna call the FBI, right?”

“Seriously, I swear,” John promises, and gets off at the next exit.

The room is tiny, and smells a little musty, the way low-end motels always seem to. John is bummed about the one king-sized bed, but pleased to note that they did get an end-of-the-hall room (closer to the stairs) and one only one floor up. And Matt’s staggering so badly by the time he keys them into the room, John has to grab him by the shoulder to keep him from tripping on the edge of the rug.

Matt kind of crumples against him, and John sighs, getting one arm around his waist and heaving him towards the bed. Matt doesn’t even get his shoes off before he’s flopping face-down across the mattress, and John rolls his eyes, tossing his own bag at the one spindly-looking armchair, moving around the room, checking the doors and windows, peeking into the bathroom. Holly had always objected to his ‘paranoia,’ but Matt’s watching him with such naked gratitude on his face as he tests the locks and sets the deadbolt that John actually feels a little uncomfortable.

“Take your shoes off, kid,” he says, turning to check the window latch one more time before pulling the drapes closed on the lovely view of the empty pool, dusted with snow. “Get some sleep.”

“You’re not leaving, right?” Matt’s eyes are barely open, but they’re still tracking John around the room.

“Definitely not leaving. I’m gonna sit right here, make my calls, then grab a nap myself. Tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do. Go to sleep, Matt.”

“’kay.” Matt’s eyes close for a long moment, then fly open again. “Don’t leave.”

“I’m not going to leave,” McClane repeats, sitting on the bed, back against the headboard, phone in hand. He has to call the precinct, let his boss know he’s in who-the-fuck-knows-where New Jersey with a paranoid hacker at his side.

“Okay.” Matt says again, his voice mushy with sleep. The next time McClane looks down at him, he’s obviously out, face turned to the side, breathing deeply and steadily. John reaches over without even thinking about it, brushes his hair out of his face, and Matt doesn’t so much as twitch.

Sighing, he crosses his feet at the ankle, makes sure his gun is close to hand, and dials the office. This is gonna be a fun one to explain to the Captain.


Warm. Too warm, really, and John turns irritably, kicking his feet away from the source of the heat, his eyes still firmly closed. His alarm hasn’t gone off yet, it must still be early, and if the fucking super doesn’t get this steam-pipe problem fixed soon, he’s going to file a complaint. Seriously, this time.

The heat makes a sound, and John’s up and on his feet, tensed and ready to punch, before his eyes are even fully open. As he blinks, it comes back to him—Matt, the car, the coffee, the motel. Shit. He’d fallen asleep, obviously, and now…

Matt’s head, hair fluffed in all directions like a dark brown dandelion, pops up over the top of the blanket, and he does some blinking of his own at John, who’s staring at him.

“Morning?” Matt’s voice is a rusty rasp, and he’s got sleep crusted in the corners of his eyes, and a red line from the pillow down the side of his face, and that ridiculous hair. John feels his mouth twitch into a smile.

“Morning.” He relaxes, and moves to the window, stretching as he does, feeling his shoulders and neck crack and pop and settle into place. Ouch. It’s actually morning, too, grey light filtering in through the dirty window as he twitches the drape aside to peer out. “Slept about ten hours, there, kid. Feel better?”

“Yeah.” Apparently at some point, Matt had woken up enough to strip out of his clothes, and John gets an eyeful as the kid scrambles out of the bed and makes a beeline for the bathroom, wearing nothing but a thin, ratty old pair of boxers that are hanging precariously off his hips. John can see the dimples in the small of his back, and sighs, bringing up a hand to rub his eyes and pinch at the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

“If you’d drink less coffee at night, you wouldn’t be so desperate for a piss,” John calls as he roots around the bed for his phone, lost in the blankets somewhere in the night, and gets a snort in return, before hearing the toilet flush and the water run.

“Blasphemy,” Matt calls back, sounding a hell of a lot more cheerful than he had the night before. “You can never have too much coffee.” When he emerges the ends of his hair are damp and dripping a little, and he’s bright-eyed and smiling, hitching his boxers up with one hand. John says a quick prayer of thanks. The trail of dark hair down that smooth belly is doing enough to his equilibrium, without an impromptu strip show to top it off.

He’s definitely too old for this. “What’re you so cheerful about?” he grumbles, heading to the bathroom himself to splash some water on his face, get himself a little more alert.

“I just had my first decent night of sleep in about a week,” Matt’s voice comes to him over the sound of splashing water. “I’m actually almost feeling kind of sane, it’s awesome.”

“Sane might be pushing it,” McClane murmurs, burying his face in a scratchy motel hand towel, scrubbing at the skin, waking himself up. He’s not even sure if he’s talking about himself or Matt, anymore. He stares at himself in the mirror, grimaces at his wrinkles and the bags under his eyes, sighs, and heads back out to face the music. Creepy emails and stalkery post-it notes, right. He’s still not completely sure this isn’t some prank by one of Matt’s friends, but Matt seems convinced, so he has some detecting to do. At least he’s got some experience with that.

When he gets back to the bedroom, Matt’s wearing clothes again, thank god. John breathes a silent sigh of relief, digs in his bag for a clean shirt, and slides into it, buttoning it over his tank. Layers, he’s found, can be useful in all kinds of situations. When he sits on the edge of the bed to shove his feet into his boots, Matt sits next to him, close enough to feel the warmth of his skin against John’s arm.

Hasn’t anyone ever taught this kid about the merits of personal fuckin’ space?

“So, what’s the plan. I mean, you’ve gotta have a plan, right? Because “kill them all and save Lucy” doesn’t apply so much in this situation, you know. Not that it didn’t work last time, it did, it really did, but I think maybe there should be a little more thinking and a little less shooting at this point—“

“Matt.” John turns, one boot still untied.

“Yeah?” Huge brown eyes meet his, wide and hopeful, and Matt’s smiling. Fucking kid.

“Nothing. Never mind. Plan, right. So, tell me again about these email things. I mean, you said you couldn’t figure out who they were coming from, right?”

“Right.” Matt settles back, clearly satisfied, and John wishes for coffee. Desperately. “They came through two anonymizers and a public email service. No way to trace them back to their originator, no way to even find out what country they came from. It could’ve been my next door neighbor.” He pauses, looks queasy. “Which I really hope it isn’t, because Mr. VanDerPlotz is like, seventy, and he’s got this skin condition…anyway, hey, do you think they have coffee at this place?”

“You’re readin’ my mind, kid.”

MATT,” Matt stresses, getting that line between his eyes. “I’m almost twenty-six, legal for everything, and I have a name and I know you know it.”

“Oh yeah?” John stands up, gets away from that distracting warmth—what, is the kid some kind of space heater or something?—and slides his holster on, feeling the gun heavy, snug, and comforting against his ribs. “Well, it’s barely light outside, I told my boss I needed the day off for personal reasons, which I am going to catch a lot of hell for tomorrow. And I haven’t had my coffee yet, so for now, be glad I’m not calling you ‘hey you little asshole,’ and get your shoes on so we can get out of here.”

“God, you’re cranky,” Matt bitches, but he does as he’s told. “Are we checking out, now? Where are we going?”

John raises an eyebrow at the “we,” but shrugs. “I dunno. No, leave your shit here for now, we don’t have to be out till noon, and it’s…” he checks his watch, “not even seven yet, Jesus. We can grab coffee and whatever, come back here, and you can tell me the whole story.”

“I did tell you the whole story,” Matt says, his voice muffled by the sweatshirt he’s pulling over his head. “Last night. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming that.”

“Yeah, well, you can tell me again.” John leads the way out of the room and clatters down the stairs, Matt at his shoulder, following the scent of fresh coffee once they get to the lobby area, and filling two cups each in respectful, appreciative silence.

Maybe Matt drinks the girly coffee drinks, John thinks, but at least he appreciates caffeine the way he should. Another thing to like about the kid, like he needed one. He shakes his head at himself and grabs a few bagels, some of those little packets of cream cheese that always taste like plastic, and a couple of muffins. Noting with approval that Matt has stocked up as well, he leads the way back to the room, pointedly ignoring the little happy cooing sounds Matt’s making over his cup.

Okay, maybe the kid appreciates the coffee a little too much.

The story is pretty much the same, even with Matt more clear-eyed and coherent. He’s genuinely freaked, John can tell that much by the way he stands up and paces, shoving his hands through his over-long hair in agitation as he reels off the details. The emails, the contacts, the note. His own panic, and then calling John, because he didn’t know who else to call, where else to go.

“Any chance that fat little bastard, what’s his name, Freddy, could figure out what’s going on?” John hazards to suggest once Matt’s wound down again and is drinking his coffee. “See if he can trace the emails, or whatever?”

Matt draws himself up, all injured pride. “If I can’t trace it, he can’t trace it.” He deflates again. “And that’s probably bad. I mean, I can trace just about anything, so this guy, whoever, he’s good. He’s really good, and that’s bad.”

“Better than you and Freddie?” John’s skeptical. He hadn’t understood even a hundredth of what was going on during the Fire Sale, but he’d gathered that Matt and Freddie are pretty fuckin’ talented in ways he can’t even imagine.

“It’s not better, it’s just different,” Matt answers quickly, a little defensively. “I mean, it’s like some kind of global hide and seek or something, he could be anywhere in the world, it could be literally anyone. And me and Freddie, sure, we’re the best at some things, but finding some chickenshit hiding behind a thousand routers and network layers and different…whatever, just, it’d be impossible.”

“He couldn’t be anywhere.” John takes a bite of his bagel and grimaces at the stale, chewy texture. Maybe living in Brooklyn has spoiled him a little. “He has to be somewhere close enough to get into your apartment when you were out getting tacos.”

Matt blinks at him, one of those long slow blinks that means his brain just kicked into overdrive, and John waits patiently. The kid’s face brightens, then scowls, then brightens again, then settles into neutral. “Yeah, okay, he’s close. But he could still be bouncing his emails off some server in Siberia or whatever.”

“You know, you kids, you get so used to thinking in digital speak or whatever it is, you forget about the regular normal stuff,” John sighs. “He was in your apartment, Matt. If he’s anything like you and Freddie, I bet you ten bucks he didn’t wear gloves. And if he didn’t wear gloves, he probably left a fingerprint somewhere.”

“Fingerprints?” Matt laughs a little, shakes his head, and then scrunches up his nose. John firmly tells himself that it’s not adorable. “That’s so…1980’s Law and Order.”

“It’s called actual police work, you little shit,” John says affectionately, gulps down his coffee, and slaps the kid upside his head as he walks past him towards his bag. He ignores Matt’s wounded yelp. “Come on, get your stuff. We’re going back to your apartment, and you’re paying me back for the gas. Servers in Siberia, Jesus Christ.”

When he glances at Matt again, the kid is grinning, and John can’t imagine why, but he finds himself grinning back.


Weirdly enough, John thinks as he parks the car yet again in Camden, he figures he’s talked more to Matt in the last few months than he has to anyone except maybe Holly and the kids, and most of that talking has happened in a car. During the Fire Sale, he’d talked in the car to keep himself awake, and despite Matt’s babble, he’d proved to be a pretty good listener. And now, again, Matt’s somehow drawn him out into talking about what’s been going on since he’d seen him last.

John doesn’t do chatty friendly catch-ups. But something about those brown eyes, intent on his and interested in what he’s saying, gets him talking like he’s some housewife at a coffee klatch.

“I gotta say, I always kind of thought you’d end up getting back together with your wife, after,” Matt’s saying conversationally, though he’s looking away as he gets out of the car, not meeting John’s eyes, which is strange enough that John wonders about it for a moment. The kid’s usually always looking at him, he’s got those eyes like lasers, as sharp as the mind behind them. “I mean, you said, how the last couple times you saved the world, you and her ended up back together.”

“Guess we’re both pretty much over that,” John answers, checking the locks before pocketing the keys. Fuckin’ Jersey. Bunch of savages in this state. “Maybe we’re just both too old.”

Matt snorts, an inelegant sound. “Yeah, right. You’re ancient, all right. You’re in better shape than most guys my age, I don’t think you have to worry about much, there.”

John’s absurdly pleased that Matt’s noticed, and grimaces at himself. Ridiculous, McClane. “Yeah, well, whatever. Why’re you so curious about that, anyway? And don’t think I’m complaining here, but you never did call Lucy. She asked about you at Christmas.”

Matt’s gaze slides away from John’s again, and he leads the way into his apartment building—slightly nicer than the last one, but only slightly—with a quick step. “Guess your warning must’ve made an impression,” he says, but it sounds almost like a question. He turns the key in the lock, and steps inside. John’s about to press him on the answer, it’s so obviously bullshit, but—something slams into his head, and everything goes dark.


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



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