The Bigger They Come (The Harder They Die)

Part 1

Matt couldn’t breathe. His palms were sweating, and his guts were twisted up in knots like some kind of hideous and trendy tribal tattoo. Throughout the course of his short life, he’d suffered through countless asthma attacks, even more bully attacks, a series of explosions, a couple of car accidents – he’d even been held at gun point a few times now – and never, ever, had he felt panic like this. His chest felt so tight, it actually hurt.

And he wasn’t even the one having the heart attack.

It was like a night mare. It was a night mare, had to be. That was the only way to explain it. John McClane didn’t have a heart condition. Matt wasn’t even sure that McClane had a heart. It seemed unreal to him that there was flesh and blood under all that baldness and burly bravado. Okay, so he’d seen the blood. But Matt half expected John to have shiny adamantium machinery hidden behind the gun powder and the badge and the constant cloud of cigarette smoke, instead of organs. Human organs. The kind that could fail.

John McClane didn’t fail. He didn’t know how. And he definitely didn’t collapse on people. He especially didn’t collapse on top of people, while they were making out for the first time in a dark hallway at 4 am.

So, simple solution, it wasn’t happening. Who cared if he was already developing the bruises to prove it, Matt would just refuse to believe this. He didn’t have time to, anyway. He was too busy pacing the hallway and cracking his knuckles, and pushing on his eyelids every time his vision started to blur out.

He hadn’t slept in over 30 hours. Which, okay, not so unusual. But his head ached, he was starving, and he desperately needed a caffeine fix. And it was a good thing he was in a hospital ‘cause he was pretty sure he was gonna be sick.

Matt was really starting to hate this place.

The ambulance ride was already a fading and surreal-feeling memory, and he couldn’t even remember his frantic conversation with 911 response at all. All that really stood out was that his legs had given out on him when he’d seen the entire team of paramedics struggling to pile McClane onto a stretcher like 210 lbs of already-dead weight.

When they’d seen Matt go down, a couple of them rushed over to sit him on the steps and give him oxygen, no matter how much he protested that he wasn’t the one who needed it. After that, he had no idea what was happening to McClane, because they wouldn’t leave him alone the whole trip to the hospital.

When Matt turned around to make his next limping lap of the despised hallway, there was a tall, scrawny guy in glasses and scrubs standing there.

"You can come in now," the man-nurse said.

Matt wasn’t sure that what happened next was better than pacing. He was sitting in a chair, next to a bed with a curtain drawn around it, trying not to stare. McClane was in the bed.

Well, McClane if he was some kind of cyborg hive-master. He was completely surrounded by beeping, pinging machines and bags of fluids on poles. They had put wires and tubes everywhere. IVs into his arms and hand, monitor leads running under one of those worse-than-just-being-nude hospital gowns to his chest, they even had some kind of little hose stuck up his nose. His skin looked wrong somehow too, like it wasn’t quite the right colour. It all kind of reminded Matt of that grody pale dude with the hard core eye-luggage, inside the Vader mask at the end of Jedi. But John's eyes were open, and he seemed to be more or less awake.

"Okay! You’re stabilized, for now, Officer McClane." The man-nurse said this with a big grin, like he’d just showed up with Ed McMahon and a giant novelty check.


Matt took a break from chewing his fingernails just long enough to get the word out, then went right back to work. Stable ‘for now’? Not cool.

Scrawny nurse-dude turned his weird manic grin toward Matt.

"Detective," He corrected himself amiably, bouncing on the toes of his white-soled running shoes. "But we’ll keep you here on the ward for another hour or so to be sure, before we move you to a room."

McClane nodded, slowly. Matt liked that. Movement was a sign of life.

"In the meantime, maybe you could answer some questions for me. Can you describe your activities leading up to the episode?" Nurse Man had produced a clipboard from out of nowhere.

Seriously, the guy was like some kind of freakishly chipper cartoon character, with his magnified eyes and magically materializing clipboards. And for some reason, he was looking at Matt expectantly, as if he should know all the details of McClane’s medical history.

"Matthew." McClane croaked, "Get your fingers out of your mouth, and answer the man’s questions."

Matt was so happy to hear that McClane was actually capable of speech, that he was already doing it before he had a chance to get annoyed that John was barking orders at him, as usual. Then again, maybe usual was good.

It was hard to tell though, McClane had shut his eyes now, like saying that one sentence tired him out.

"Um. Okay. Questions, questions. What do you want to know? Right, right, activities." Matt mentally ran through everything he’d ever heard, read, or seen in bad medi-dramas about heart conditions. Which wasn’t a lot.

"He had his arm above his head for a while," Matt wasn’t sure that was important, but he figured he might as well give them everything. "About five minutes. And he’s been pretty stressed out, working until 3 am. A few nights running. Way too much for recovering from being shot in the shoulder – twice. Oh, and he was probably chain smoking."

That, he was pretty sure was important.

John cracked an eye open and eyed Matt irritably for a second. At least he was still conscious. Nurse Man made a few notes.

"What were you doing when you collapsed, Detective?"

Oh. That.

"We were standing in the hall..." Matt began.

"Having sex." John said. His eyes were still closed.

"What?" John’s voice was kind of weak and wavering, but it still brought Matt up short. He lost track of everything else he’d been about to tell the dude-nurse. "We were?"

"Don’t lie, Matt," John said in his hoarse half-whisper. "The man’s a medical professional, he can tell when you’re lying."

"I didn’t – I...I thought that was cops?"

"Lying’s a medical phenomenon." John sounded like he’d either given or received this speech a million times. "The pupils dilate, the skin gives a galvanic response, and when YOU do it, you open your eyes real big and try to look all earnest."

Cartoon-nurse looked like he was trying not to laugh. 

"So you were in a standing position, indoors, and there was ...some sexual activity." He pushed his round, Harry Potter glasses further up on his nose and made more notes.

"I thought we were just kissing." Matt muttered. He wasn’t lying.

"We weren’t just kissing." John opened his eyes and directed this at Potter-nurse.

"Well," Matt could feel himself blushing. "Okay, there might have been some...hands."

"Heavy petting." John clarified.

"Jesus, McClane!" Matt was pretty sure he heard a snicker and a ‘shhh!’ from behind the curtain that was their only barrier between countless other sick people in beds, and freaked-out families on hard plastic chairs.

"It was him on the receiving end, if that matters." John continued, like Matt wasn’t even there.

He dropped his burning face into his hands. What the hell kind of drugs did they have McClane on?

"Not to me, Sir." Nurse Harry said, not bothering to hide a smug little smirk.


Matt was just glad they had moved McClane to a room and whittled his attachments down to just two machines and one IV pole, by the time Lucy showed up. She looked wigged out enough without having to see the whole creepy Matrix scene they’d had John hooked up to, down on the ward.

"Daddy!" She dropped an out-sized purse on the floor, that looked like it might be doubling as an overnight bag, and rushed toward the bed. But she stopped at the edge and put both hands on the rail. "Are we allowed to hug you?"

John laughed a little, and it made him cough. And then he made a face like it hurt.

"Of course, pumpkin." He said. But he didn’t sit up, so Lucy just bent down and put her cheek to her father’s, placing her hand on the other side of his face, to press gently. When she pulled back, Matt could see she was pale and her eyes looked wider and darker than he remembered. She wasn’t crying, but it looked like maybe she had been.

"Hi." She said, quietly.

"Hi, sweetheart."  

Matt dropped his gaze. He felt like maybe he should leave them alone, but he was sitting in the corner in the room’s only chair. He’d have to go and squeeze by Lucy to do it, and the whole point was he didn't want to disturb them.

"Oh, Dad, what happened?"

"Nothing, honey, I’m just...getting old."

"Matt said..." Suddenly Lucy stopped, and looked around the room, only now realizing they might not be alone. "Hi, Farrell."

"Hey, Gennaro." Matt got up out of his chair, and shuffled a little closer to the bed.

"You look like hell." She said, flatly. "What have you been doing to my dad, you kinky little freak?"

Matt felt his eyes widen in guilt for a second before he saw that Lucy was giving him a half-hearted smile.

"Well," he said, "It could have been the circus animals, but they think it was probably the massive quantities of blow." He looked at John, made little nose-wiping gestures and stage-whispered, "You still got a little something right there, big guy." 

John gave him the classic McClane eyeball, but Lucy's small smirk had relaxed and stretched into a real smile. So, that was one in the win column.

"Matt said on the phone that you fell, dad." Lucy pressed. "And they didn't know what was wrong with you. Do we know yet?" She said this last part looking inquiringly at Matt.

“They know.” John grunted. “They just keep lying about it.”

“Always with the human lie-detector thing.” Matt mumbled.

“Don’t get me started.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “Well, what did they say?”

 “Um, I don’t – I don’t think they’re lying.” Matt felt oddly caught in the middle. “It’s...they called it...”

It was hard enough, trying to find the words to explain to Lucy what was happening and not freak her out more, but worrying about contradicting John and pissing him off in his fragile state was making it impossible.

“Episode.” John interrupted, although Matt wasn’t entirely sure he was talking to them. “Coronary, micro-cardio-whatever-the-fuck. Nooo, don’t wanna use the word ‘heart attack’! Like I’m too big of an idiot to figure it out.”

“Heart attack!?” Lucy’s hand flew to her mouth.

“I’m okay, sweetie.”

“Like hell you are, John. Matt,” Lucy snapped, “What are they going to do about it? Surgery, pills, what?”

Why did this keep coming back to him? He just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Lucy to make like the weird manga-nurse guy and ask how all of this had started.

“Yeah,” Matt shifted his weight a bit, “They’re going to do a procedure – “

“It’s only a little one, honey.” John jumped in again.

“Little?” Her eyes were still on Matt.

“It’s laparoscopic.” Matt said, flicking his gaze guiltily between the two McClanes. “They’re going to put in a stent. It’s an angioplasty.”

“They wanna make a really small hole and stick a little balloon in there.” John said, and both their heads whipped ‘round. His voice was still quieter than usual, but it seemed that even a micro-cardio-whatever-the-fuck episode was no match for John’s ‘you’ll damn well pay attention’ tone. “Then they blow it up to make the passage wider, then take out the balloon and the blood can go through.”

“Really?” Lucy was tugging nervously on one of her hoop earrings.

John had left out the part where he had a piece of metal inside him for the rest of his life, but Matt felt like it was a bad time to split hairs.

“Modern technology, Luce.” John said, settling his head back on his pillow like everything was fixed already and they could all go home. “Daddy’s going to be just fine.”

Lucy was still looking at Matt kind of sceptically. He thought John might have had her convinced before he threw in the bit about technology. John didn’t exactly get his reputation for his tech savvy.

“That’s...that’s actually pretty much exactly what they’re doing.” Matt stammered. “I...he just described it better than all three of the doctors who’ve been through here.”

“I been around cops all my life,” John grumbled. “I’ve seen enough guys go under the knife to know how angioplasty works. See, kid? I’m not as think as you dumb I am.”

“Dad,” Lucy scolded, “That joke has never been funny. And I’m sure Matt doesn’t think you’re dumb.”

Did Lucy just actually defend him? Wow, this thing was throwing everybody off their game.

“I’m going to go leave a message for Mom,” said Lucy. “She’s probably on the plane already.”

“Plane?” John said. Matt remembered something McClane had said once about a fear of flying. “Your mother. She’s coming here?”

“Daddy, of course. You nearly died.” Lucy patted John’s hand, and then she grabbed her bag and breezed out of the room like she was getting way too used to saying that.

Matt felt his insides squirming into knots again. Having two McClanes in one room had nearly given him a heart attack to call his very own. Matt was pretty sure adding Mrs. ex-McClane would constitute critical mass.

He was suddenly very aware of just how small a private hospital room really was.

“I’m just gonna...go – you want anything?” Matt asked John.

He was rubbing the hand without the IV in it over and over his scalp, and looking dumbfounded.

“Holly...” John said, and for a sickening second, Matt thought John was actually responding to his question. “She called Holly.”

“Okay.” Matt said, just to be saying something. “I’ll bring you some reading material or whatever. I think there’s another article about you in People.”

John flicked his gaze at Matt in acknowledgement that actually meant he was ignoring him, and Matt took it as his cue and fled before he could do anything classic like hyperventilate, or maybe even puke.


"A dump truck full of gold bars? That’s insane."


They were standing by the snack machine in the lounge area, where Lucy was allowed to turn on her cell phone, in case the rest of John's family called. When they'd left John, he'd been asleep, propped up awkwardly in the hospital cot, but obviously too worn out to care.

"That’s. A dump truck." Matt repeated. "How many axles? Forget it." He said, when Lucy looked at him with the 'you gotta be fuckin' kidding me' McClane glare.

"Standard, standard…ten cubic yards. Ten, that’s thirty...bricks or bars? Bricks." He answered himself rather than give her the chance to cut him another stink-stare.

"Metric, hello." Matt knocked himself on the forehead, "Okay, hold on. So…eight point three by three point three, lengthwise. That’s nine in two, so fifteen… one thirty-five. And two inches per layer, so by sixty…wait…holy shit, three million…no! It's one eighty, not sixty, so nine million seventy-two troy, with the price of gold today – well, yesterday – that’s… Holy shit, Gennaro, your dad could’ve had over 5.8 Billion dollars in that truck."

"Impressive." Lucy’s eyes were wide. "But you know this was in the nineties, Rain Man." Good to know she hadn’t lost her powers of sarcasm.

"Shit, right. Well, roughly two thirds of that, then."

"Only roughly?" Lucy laughed.

"Hey, you gave me a whole decade to work with. Sorry I’m not a human stock ticker."

"But I’m guessing you were a Mathlete?"

It was Matt’s turn to laugh. He raised a hand in admission. "Yeah, guilty."

"I can’t believe I ever considered dating you."

"You considered dating me?" Matt looked up in surprise to see Lucy smiling at him. She was quite pretty when she wasn’t being supremely brutal.

"It was after the kidnapping, I had PTSD." Yeah, never mind.

But fair enough. Matt ducked his head, knowing he couldn't really hide his big grin, and Lucy kicked at the instep of his shoe. "Easy Farrell, you’re with my Dad now remember?"


"What!?" Matt spluttered, "How do you – what makes you think I’m ‘with’ your dad?"

"And if you break his heart," Lucy jabbed a finger at him, "I will kick your ass."

Oh. Just...great.

"Know what, there’s way too many McClanes in close proximity around here. Can we, like, call a nurse or something, ‘cause I think my blood pressure is way off the charts."

Lucy raised her eyebrows at something over Matt’s shoulder. He spun around on his good leg, narrowly avoiding knocking over the same kindly looking round-cheeked nurse who’d admitted John, and had apparently chosen this awesomely-timed moment to further complicate Matt’s life.

"Would you like to come with me? The surgeon is here and I think she’ll want to talk to you and your partner."

"Partner? Oh." Matt shook his head, "No. No, I’m not a cop. I just –"

"No dear, I know." Matt didn’t miss the amused look she exchanged with Lucy. "You’re Matthew aren’t you? Matthew Farrell? You’re listed as Officer McClane’s primary caregiver."

Yeah. He was. That didn't mean... Matt just sighed.

"It's Detective." He said.

"Senior Detective." Lucy corrected him.

The nurse just smiled again, taking ahold of Matt's elbow and gently steering him down the hall. Before they rounded the corner, Matt looked back over his shoulder and held in a groan.

Lucy was smirking to herself and pulling out her cell phone, and Matt was pretty sure he was about to be outed to the entire student body of Rutgers via viral text message. If they both survived the surgery, McClane was going to shoot him.


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



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