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Foreknowledge

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Foreknowledge

John McClane wakes up with a barely suppressed scream on his lips. It takes a few minutes of furious panting before his breathing calms to normal. He tries to remember the exercises Dr. Railly gave him for this.

 

For the nightmares. To reassure himself it is still summer, to remind himself that he is here now, McClane eases out of his narrow bed to limp to the bedroom window of his apartment. Outside the orange bench in front of the bakery across the street is free of snow as are the rooftops and ledges of the surrounding buildings.

 

There are no lions standing majestically on top of the bakery, roaring their dominance. There is no eight foot grizzly bear sitting on the orange bench waiting for him to leave his apartment so that it can chase him down, maul him beyond recognition. McClane presses his face against the window pane. Still summer, still warm. Still here.

 

Three months ago there had been an episode. That’s how everyone refers to it, his partner, his Lieutenant, his therapist. He supposes that sounds better than psychotic break. Ninety days ago, there was a twenty-four hour period in which John McClane had no idea who he was or how he came to be sitting in an unmarked police car next to his partner, Detective Jose Evans. In the middle of his shift , on the way to question a witness, it had all simply gone away. The name John McClane meant nothing to him.

 

Bailing on questioning the witness, his partner had instead taken him to the emergency room. While waiting to be seen, he’d started muttering about monkeys. The emergency room doc admitted him. The next day, McClane responded to his name without hesitation, and could recite the name and disposition of the last five cases he and his partner had worked.

 

Neither the CT scan nor the PET scan run after his admission indicated any physical anomaly. His tox screen was clean. He was a decorated NYPD officer and that probably contributed to the fact no one mentioned Bellevue might be a better able to evaluate his situation.

Medical leave, thinly disguised as vacation time followed shortly thereafter. Counseling was a mandatory component of his leave. No counseling, no job to go back to. So every two weeks for the last twelve weeks he had been seeing a doctor in Cobble Hill to learn to deal with his work related “stress”.

 

According to Dr. Railly, sometimes you don’t know until your body needs you to know, makes you know. Only it didn’t feel like stress. Doesn’t feel like stress. He’d been checked into the hospital with no idea who he was and checked out with the sense that who he was, wasn’t exactly right. Everything had felt a little bit off, a little bit weird. He’d been so unsettled, not stressed, unsettled that he could no longer live in the apartment he’d had for fifteen years.

He knows that he is John McClane, single white male, fifties, a Detective with the NYPD, but it doesn’t seem to mean what it had before those twenty-four hours. He’s lived across the street from the Brooklyn bakery for almost three months now. His red brick apartment building is fairly ramshackle. The windows on the opposite side are almost all boarded up. A step or two up from a crackhouse, sparsely inhabited. He likes it. No one complains when he wakes up screaming.

He’d considered selling the other apartment, but Dr. Railly suggested he might want to hold off making any permanent changes for the time being. He watches the owner unlock the bakery’s orange door. The day begins. He needs to grab a shower. He’s due at his therapist’s in a couple of hours.

__________________________

“Your recall is very vivid John. Closer to memory than dream.”

“You think there was a time in my life when I was attacked by a grizzly, in the middle of the city? Come on doc? I thought I was the one having problems with my marbles.”

Dr. Railly smiles at him. John likes her smile, thinks it might be the only reason he’s putting up with this shit. She’s also a brunette. A lot of guys are into blondes, but for him it’s brunette every time. Although it’s been a long time since he’s done more than look. In his current situation, he can’t imagine that changing.

“What about when you were younger? Your description of the initial reluctance to go outside for fear of what might be out there. The elaborate protection against the bite of the cold or danger to your welfare. Not being able to get warm enough, safe enough. How you felt when the threat became real. The helplessness. I’m asking you to look at the possibility that this dream and the others are related to something very specific that happened to you. Perhaps when you were younger.”

“I’m a police detective. Vivid recall is what I do.” The smile turns enigmatic. “Perhaps.”

His fingers have cramped around the armrests of the leather recliner without realizing. Shaking them out, he glances at Dr. Railly who watches him carefully.

“See you in two weeks,” she says. “Try not to get eaten.”

McClane smiles at that against his will. “Yeah, I’ll do my best. See you in a couple weeks.”

The subway has also joined the list of unsettling things. The first time McClane tried to enter a station was a day or two after his night in the hospital. As he descended the stairs, there’d been a roiling in his stomach. At the time, he simply attributed it to the weirdness of his week. In the time since, it’s developed into a full aversion to being underground. The dark, the confinement, the noise. And he doesn’t want to take a chance of having another ‘episode’ while driving. So he hasn’t, not since that day. Railly doesn’t know and McClane intends to keep it that way.

Unfortunately, he can’t get a cab to take him all the way out to his place so every two weeks he’s had to suck it up. Breathe deep, count to ten, to twenty, to one hundred. Stand as far away from the clusters of other riders as he can, with as much of the subway car at his back as possible. Ride it out.

Same song, unfortunately not by Creedence, different day. He goes though the ritual. Makes his way to the back of the car only to find a man already huddled there. In his spot. McClane falters.

The man tilts his head sideways. What McClane sees just above the man’s collar flips his stomach. The size, the placement, just like the one on McClane’s neck. Just like the tattoo his partner always teases him about as obviously a souvenir of a drunken, misspent youth. Which is the reason he thinks McClane won’t tell him anything about it. McClane strokes his index finger against the ink on his neck as he stares at the other man. The truth is he has no memory of getting the tattoo.

McClane also has a word tattooed high on his inner left thigh. That memory is indelible, like the ink. The profound feeling that sent him to the parlor, the painful prick of the needles marking his flesh, the after care to make sure there was no infection. Total recall.

The one on the side of his neck has none of that texture. When he draws his finger over it while staring in the mirror, he gets no flash of the tattoo artist with a shaved head and inked skull. He gets no flash of sample art or script. No whir of needles. No recalled bullshitting to distract from the pain. There is nothing, but a darkness where that memory should be. He has never had any strong association attached to the barcode tatted into his skin, until now.

Volunteer slithers through McClane’s mind, but he doesn’t know what it means. The more he stares at the man, with longish hair, hunched in the corner, wrapped in a green army jacket, the louder the word seems to get until he has no choice.

“Are you a volunteer?” Deep brown eyes stare at him for what seems like an eternity, before the boy, McClane can see now, he really is more boy, than man, clutches his messenger bag to his chest.

“No, no, no,” the boy mutters as he scrambles up from his seat. “No, no please I can’t go back, not yet. You keep screwing it up and that is so not my fault. Not my fault. Don’t make me go back.”

And before McClane can ask, “Go back where?” The boy has shoved himself past the Detective, into the crowd of commuters who swallow him whole as he goes.

That night as McClane gazes at the barcode from every possible angle, all he can hear over and over is volunteer,volunteer, volunteer. That refrain follows him into another night of fitful sleep. He wakes up screaming. The fingers of his left hand presses against the birth mark on his chest where it feels torn and burning. His breaths come in jagged inhalations like knife twists.

This time when he looks out of his bedroom window, the orange bench is occupied. Not by a bear. McClane considers it might be better if it were. At least then he could call animal control. Or shoot it no questions asked with backup in his nightstand. The kid, wearing two shirts now, still clutching the messenger bag, stares right at his window. Right at him. McClane doesn’t waste any time feigning surprise.

 

“You decide you want to talk to me today?”

The dark eyes that tracked McClane the short distance he strode from his building to the bakery bench, now stare at some fixed point above his shoulder. Up close the kid looks like he missed his turn at the shower more than a day or so in a row. Dark circles ring his eyes.

“You were a volunteer.”

It’s a statement. McClane chooses not to hear it that way.

“If I was?”

“Then you know. You know how bad it must be there. They said you could help. They said I should talk to you, that you were a cop. Not the kind that enforces for warlords, but the real kind, the old kind.” He finally looks at McClane, the pleading in the kid’s eyes unmistakable.

The cop in him is not entirely immune. Some part of him offers.

 

“I was pardoned.” That sentence should have no relevance to him. Maybe this is how it starts, McClane thinks. Tomorrow he’ll wake up with a doctor shining a light in his eyes and asking him to name the current President and year.

 

But the kid nods vigorously. “I know man. I know. Why do you think I’m here? Well, I mean they made me come, cause they were kind of freaked that I built my own laptop, but -”

One of the bakery’s employees smiles at the both of them as he unlocks the door. McClane shifts his weight in that direction. “I need coffee,” he grumbles. “Probably a bucketful.”

__________________________

They’d had their pick of booths in the bakery’s intimate space. After ordering a large cup of coffee that McClane was happy to see came in an actual coffee cup, he had watched in fascinated horror as the kid selected one of everything in the display case.

The prices weren’t bad, but there was no way McClane could cover the kid’s rapidly escalating tab with what he had in his wallet. Or his entire bank account if the kid kept it up.

 

As the kid added something to his tab called a ‘whoopie pie’, McClane stepped up to the counter to intervene. Slightly shaky hands extracted a wad of bills from the back pocket of the kid’s jeans. Instinctually, McClane knew the money was stolen, but the cop inside mustered little objection as the kid handed the money over to the cashier.

 

Now McClane watches with a different kind of horror as the kid stuffs his face with enough sugar containing products to induce instant diabetes. It’s impressive in its way. The accompanying sounds the kid makes can only be described as orgasmic. That juxtaposition pulls McClane up short.

 

“How old are you anyway?”

 

The kid holds up his index finger while he finishes chowing down on the edges of his whoopie pie. McClane shifts his gaze to what’s left of his coffee.

 

“I’ll be twenty-eight in a couple of months.”

 

“You’re shitting me.”

 

The kid grins at him. “Uh, no. So you know, feel free to keep staring at my mouth.”

 

“I’m not -. ”

 

“It’s okay,” the kid says quietly. “Doesn’t happen very often. I’m not. Most people think I’m weird. Not here, here’s kind of great. Girls and guys actually smile at me here. But there...I spend a lot of time by myself. No one does much smiling at anyone.”

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Matthew, Matt, Matt Farrell.”

 

“Well Matthew Matt Farrell, you need to tell me what the hell you think I can do for you.”

 

“He’s about to fuck us all, well you all first. Now. The rest of us, get the trickle down. It gets bad. Armageddon. Straight up.”

 

Dark eyes glance at the picture window that streams sunlight into the room.

 

“I like to watch the lights at night. People on the streets, no curfew. So cool.”

 

Apparently, all the sugar has gone to his tongue.

 

“I don’t really sleep, not since I got here. There’s so much light at night. I should sleep. I know that, but I found this stuff, oh chocolate is great. I love chocolate, but this stuff is faster. It’s like punched or shot, but it doesn’t hurt. It just helps me stay awake.”

 

That perks up McClane’s ears. Now they’re getting to the crux of the problem. It would make sense the kid’s on something. The bags under his eyes, the dirty hair, the restlessness, the serious munchies.

 

McClane grimaces at the detritus on the table.

 

“Don’t tell the scientists though. They’re mean sons a bitches. And incompetent. Wait, I didn’t mean that. But you know what I’m talking about right?”

 

“What exactly are you on?” Even as McClane asks, what the kid just said registers. “Scientists?”

 

“Yeah, you had your own problems with them back in the day. Which I guess hasn’t happened yet. Or never happened at all because you stopped it or whatever. What can you do? I mean I’m trying, but the first time, they sent me to France, during the second World War. With my laptop. What was I supposed to do? At least it was a resistance...”

 

Scientists have been in all of McClane’s nightmares. They’ve been trumped by other more spectacular things in the dreams, but they are always there. At the edges.

 

“You’re saying these scientists sent you to France, during World War 2?”

 

“Yeah dude, the ones that sent us both here. The ones that sent you here in ninety-six. It’s not a world killing plague this time, but it’s an apocalypse, slower apocalypse, but an apocalypse all the same. I saw some of your file..”

Everything cop in McClane wants to call absolute bullshit. Have the kid, Matt, picked up for psychiatric evaluation. But there are scientists in his nightmares. In his nightmares, he thinks every one is dead. He feels like the last man standing.

His birthmark twinges sharp sending pain through his chest. Suddenly, the bakery is too bright. He can’t be in public anymore. McClane grabs the kid by the front of his shirt, yanks him up.

“Let’s go.”

“Go, go where?”

McClane sniffs once. “For starters, you really could use a shower.” The kid’s face lights up.

 

“Oh, man hot water on tap.”

 

Matt stays on his heels as McClane practically sprints back to his building, then up the stairs to his apartment. With the door locked firmly behind them, John presses one hand against his chest, wraps the fingers of this other around Matt’s biceps.

 

“Tell me the rest. Why are you here? All of it straight out.”

 

“There’s this guy,War10ck, who’s going to write a code,” Matt begins. He talks for twenty minutes without tangents. It’s been almost three months since McClane’s done anything work related. But he’s been a cop for well over twenty years, interviewed victims of trauma and witnesses to trauma.

 

In the first five minutes of Matt Farrell’s twenty minute explanation, it dawns on McClane the kid is both. McClane isn’t sure he understands all of what Matt’s saying about this Fire Sale thing, but trauma, yes. He gets it.

 

His hand tightens on the the kid’s biceps as the tremors start, maintains eye contact as sable eyes go in and out of focus with the telling.

 

“I have to stop them. They took it all down, everything, the entire infrastructure. Transportation, financial, power. All of it. And people, you people, now, you’re not really, weren’t really very proactive. Wasn’t a lot of teamwork or any of that American can do spirit I’ve read about in books. Everything goes to hell. In two days all of this, everywhere will begin to fall apart without end. Everything goes. It’s all gone.”

 

McClane might not get why warlock is spelled with a one and a zero or know what leet speak is, or be able to define a mutating algorithmic security code, but he gets criminal intent. He’s well versed in evil.

He understands the panic peeking through Farrell’s explanation, riddled with oddness though it is. He understands the shaking Farrell doesn’t seem to notice though he’s stopped talking.

 

It’s not going to hurt anyone to ask Evans to check the database for wants and warrants or get twenties on Thomas Gabriel, Frederick Kaludis, a.k.a War10ck and Mai Linh. Tracing a semi-trailer VIN should be a piece of cake. If it all comes to nothing, McClane at least has a place to start in getting the kid help.

 

His birthmark has stopped throbbing. Deep down he doubts it’ll come to nothing. He’s afraid it might come to more than either of them can handle.

 

The kid’s eyes have gone slightly unfocused again.

 

“Matthew, Matt.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

McClane steps more fully into his living room, pulling Matt with him. He points in the direction of the bathroom.

 

“Bathroom’s through there. Towels in the closet right next to the bathroom door.”

 

Matt shakes himself back into the moment. “Great, that’s great.” He bounds off in the direction McClane pointed. McClane dials his cell.

 

“Hey Evans, I need a favor. I need you to run down some names.”

 

The pause is so long. McClane thinks the signal has dropped. He starts to disconnect, dial again. On the other end Evans clears his throat.

 

“McClane?”

 

“”Yeah, yeah. I have some names.”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“Look, Evans, Jose. I just need you to do me a quick favor. Something’s come up.” There is another long pause. McClane tries not to give in to impatience.

 

“That day.... You scared the shit out of me man. Is this gonna help fix what ever happened to you? ‘Cause you’re supposed to be on vacation.”

 

McClane can hear the air quotes through the phone. “I don’t want to do anything to fuck you up John.”

 

“I now partner, trust me. I think this will help.” The words only stick in his throat a little.

 

“Lay it on me.”

 

When the Detective gets off his cell fifteen minutes later, he pokes his head into the bathroom. A wall of steam billows out. Chuckling, McClane closes the door.

______________________________

“I can’t believe you don’t have a computer. I mean it’s legal right, no restrictions. You don’t have to scavenge parts or books to tell you what to do. You don’t have to hide or worry about raids. All you gotta do is plug in.

Does this building have wi-fi? I read a lot about that. I almost got to try it at this other place that had coffee. It was full of people with real laptops. I need to test my configuration. You called your partner, right. They’re going to get stopped, right?”

McClane can’t help, but nod in the affirmative. The smile that breaks across Matt’s face is a revelation.

Confirmed bachelor. When McClane’s partner says it he’s showing his admiration for McClane’s successful dodge of what he fondly refers to as the ‘bullshit of marriage’. Evans has been divorced three times. From time to time others have said it with a knowing smirk when they find that McClane has made it to middle age without ever having been married or fathering any children. He’s never made much confirmation either way. The demands of work provided the most convenient excuse, mostly truthful reason.

 

Watching Matt’s arms wave like pinwheels, as he disses McClane’s lack of technology, one of McClane’s bath towels hanging precariously around slim hips, the Detective acknowledges to himself that between Dr. Railly and Matt Farrell, Matt Farrell would be his brunette of choice.

 

“Wow, is that a microwave?”

 

McClane hadn’t had anything, but the coffee from the bakery. His breakfast burrito has another minute or so to go.

“ I’ve read about these. It takes so long to cook anything over open flame. If you can find food. It’s...hard sometimes to get things that are fresh. I’m not really good with guns so I don’t really hunt. Everything is so much easier here, now. I can’t believe you guys fucked it up so badly.”

 

“You still have to wear clothes here, now. I don’t think I have anything that will fit you.”

 

“We don’t, I mean we wear what we can find, ‘til it falls apart. I wore a skirt for a month once. Fortunately it was summer. It’s not like those clothes belong to me. I stole them when I first got here again.”

 

“I should arrest you.”

 

“But you won’t.”

 

“No I won’t.”

 

“Can we?” The kid inches around McClane to stare in at the plate turning inside the microwave.

“ Can I, do you have other things we can cook in here?”

Three hours later McClane’s stomach feels like it’s going to burst open. He hadn’t had much food in his place. The kid’s fascination with the microwave prompted him to order Chinese. A lot of it, which the kid insisted on letting get cold, then reheating. McClane enjoys teaching Matt how to use the microwave and the stove he hasn’t used since he moved into the apartment.

 

Matt runs out of energy abruptly, drifting off to sleep on the couch, clutching a container of sweet and sour chicken. McClane liberates the chicken, tilts Matt so he won’t wake with a crick in his neck. After he puts the chicken away, the Detective only means to stretch out for a few minutes, to try to figure a plan of action. He doesn’t mean to fall asleep.

 

It’s not violent nightmares that wake McClane. It’s Matt trying to pull his arm out of its socket.

 

“Oh, God it’s happening. It’s happening.” Matt moans over and over while McClane tries to get himself together. It’s dark outside, but only just so. They’ve slept the daylight away. Matt’s wearing one of his NYPD t-shirts and a pair of his sweatpants.

 

“I was gonna do the oatmeal in the microwave, just like you showed me, right? But when I pushed the buttons, nothing happened. And I noticed the blue clock light wasn’t on. So I tried to turn on the light in the kitchen, but nothing happened then the ones in the bathroom. I thought you called your friend. How can it still be happening? You told them about War10ck. About Gabriel, how could they have taken out the power already?”

“Matt.”

McClane grabs the other man firmly, tightens his grip to bruising.

 

“Matt calm down. Matt, Matt listen to me. This building is old. It’s a step away from being condemned. Probably just a blown fuse okay? Matt, look at me. You trust me right? It’s just a blown fuse.”

 

Confused, scared eyes blink at him once, twice. “A blown fuse?”

 

“Yeah, it happens. Okay. I’m sure everything is fine.”

 

“I don’t want things to change. I like it here.”

 

McClane strokes his fingers up into the kid’s hair. Tightens just a little to refocus the kid’s attention.

 

“You don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to go. Or do anything you don’t want to do.”

 

Matt’s fingers brush against the tattoo on his neck. “You know that isn’t true,” comes the defeated reply.

 

“If you stop the Fire Sale you get a pardon, right?” McClane’s fingers replace Matt’s. He caresses the barcode. Let’s his thumb stroke across the ridge of the kid’s collarbone.

 

“Right?”

“The lights -”

“The lights will be on just as soon as I change the fuse.” McClane tightens his grip as Matt tries to look away.

 

“Five minutes Matt.”

 

It takes closer to ten. McClane is right about the blown fuse. Two minutes to ascertain that, eight or so to find a fuse, a minute to physically change it. Matt stays on McClane the whole time. McClane lets him screw in the new fuse.

 

In the kitchen, the microwave clock light is on as it should be. “Cool,” Matt shouts right before pulling McClane into a hug. For a moment, McClane’s hands stick in the air like propeller wings before they settle around Matt’s shoulders.

 

Earlier, watching the kid marvel at the microwave, savor his limited selection of food and delight in turning the one lamp McClane has in his living room on and off, he’d felt something he doesn’t think he’s ever felt before. Beyond the physical attraction he’s allowed himself to acknowledge, there is an ease. He enjoys the way his space feels with Matthew Farrell in it.

 

Leaving him to discover the joy of microwaveable popcorn, McClane steps into his bedroom and closes the door. Evans answers on the first ring.

“Whadya got for me?”

“I tell you what I got. I got a double homicide.”

“On my names?”

“No, asshole. Actual cases. The ones I get paid to work on. Total bloodbath. It’s a nightmare.”

 

“Cry me a river. Did you get anything?” A loud sigh comes through the phone.

 

“There’s sort of a time element here Evans.”

 

“You owe me.”

 

“You don’t think I know that?”

 

“What the fuck are you doing messing around with Department of Defense shit? That Gabriel guy is some kind of hot shot security expert. At least until they fired his ass. There were a couple of things in the Times. Hey, you’re not looking for another job are you? Is that what this is McClane? Did you get headhunted?”

The microwave dings.

“No, no it’s nothing like that. What else you got?”

“Nothing on a Mai Linh or really Gabriel. No idea where he is now. His paper trail ended a few years ago. I’m still waiting to hear from the DMV. I didn’t find Frederick Kaludis, but I did find one Kaludis in Baltimore.”

 

“Baltimore?”

 

“Yeah, you ever been there?” The chill down McClane’s spine says maybe, but like the tattoo on his neck, he’s got nothing to flesh it out.

“Gimme what you got on Kaludis.”

McClane scribbles down the address for Maureen Kaludis. “Thanks Evans. I’ll be in touch.”

“Vacation, McClane. Remember you’re on vacation. Don’t screw it up. I need my partner back.” Evans clicks off. McClane spends about a minute staring at his wall, before he reaches into his night stand for his shoulder holster and Glock.

 

When he walks into the kitchen, Matt is putting leftover Chinese in the microwave.

“Grab whatever you need. We gotta go to Baltimore.” Matt leaves the popcorn on the counter and the sweet and sour turning on the plate.

________________________________

McClane wakes up in his bed, feeling battered. Even his eyebrows hurt. He remembers being shot in the right shoulder, knocked flat on his back by the impact of the bullet, blood leaking out of him, staining the sparse grass of the Kaludis lawn. He remembers kicking some serious ass. The last thing he remembers before passing out is the sound of sirens. He has no idea how he got back to his apartment.

Carefully, he pushes himself upright. This isn’t the first time he’s awakened in pain. This is the first time his t-shirt has been dappled in blood. It confirms what he knows. Baltimore wasn’t a dream. With his left hand, McClane gingerly, lifts the edge of his t-shirt, works it over his head.

 

The flesh of the shoulder, where one of the ten or so men who showed up at the Kaludis home, locked and fully loaded, shot him is blemished with the same irregularly shaped circle birthmark he has on his chest. He feels like he’s been shot, but there is no evidence.

 

The silence of his apartment settles over him. Weighs him down just a little. He knows that when he goes into his kitchen he won’t find Matt microwaving whatever treasure he’s found, grinning like a kid with a puppy.

 

After he takes a long, long shower, and downs half a bottle of aspirin, McClane finally checks his phone messages. One call from Railly that he deletes right after she says his name, several calls from Evans. The last one is from his Lieutenant telling him he has to get his ass down to the precinct.

 

Even without a television, McClane knows the aborted Fire Sale is the story of the day. He’d only been able to listen to just a little bit of news radio before turning it off in disgust. So much Monday morning quarterbacking. The true hero of the day missing in action.

At the precinct, McClane discovers that Kaludis has been cursing that ‘son of a bitch McClane’ loud and long since he was found tied up in his mother’s basement. The Feds want McClane to make a statement.

“I heard some hackboys on the subway talking about causing serious mayhem. You know how perps can be with their bullshit. And I don’t understand all that computer mumbo jumbo, so I looked into it. Went over to NYU asked around. One of ‘em explained what a Fire Sale was. The trail led out of state. Since I’m on vacation -”

McClane does the air quotes, because now it’s funny. “I tipped off the Feds.” He shrugs as nonchalantly as he can. Fortunately, the aspirin are working.

“We don’t have a record of the tip.”

“Anonymous.”

“Kaludis says you held a gun to his head.”

McClane covers his smirk as best he can. He did hold a gun to the belligerent ‘digital jedi’s’ head while Matt worked furiously to undo the impending chaos the bastard helped create.

He hadn’t understood the half of what Matt was doing even though he’d provided a running commentary. Kaludis spent the whole time whining from the peanut gallery, “You’re fucking up my command center.”

McClane had essentially just been the muscle. Matt Farrell was the guy of the hour.

“He plays with dolls,” McClane mutters under his breath.

“I beg your pardon, Detective,” his Lieutenant asks with an arched brow.

“Sir, leaving aside how ridiculous it would be for me to drive, what, three hours to Baltimore and not notify local p.d., then drive three hours back, to Brooklyn without doing same, Mr. Kaludis is a terrorist. He was in collusion with other terrorists to destroy this country. I imagine most of what he says is one hundred percent bullshit.”

When they describe Matt to a tee and ask if he knows anyone fitting that description, McClane stares at them blankly, shrugs again. It works for his superiors, but does nothing to assuage the sense of loss he feels at Matt Farrell’s absence.

 

Professional obligations satisfied, McClane puts in a request for a formal leave of absence. After finishing the appropriate paperwork, he wanders the sidewalks of Manhattan. The unease of three months ago has been replaced with a new wonder. He doesn’t wonder how many of the people in Times Square have contraband in their pockets or elsewhere on their persons, he wonders what Matt would say about the neon at night.

A few hours later, McClane finds himself walking out of the Apple store on Fifth Avenue with something called an Airbook. He thinks that’s what it’s called. He wasn’t really paying attention.

The store was way too bright for his liking. It was all he could do not to punch the chirpy salesperson. After a couple minutes of listening to what amounted to a foreign language, he’d handed his credit card to one of the very young employees with instructions to get him the best laptop they had and all the necessary bells and whistles.

He stops at his apartment in the East Village. It smells like paint and stale air. McClane hovers in the living room for five minutes. The unease here is also gone. As he takes it in for the first time, fully, absolutely himself, he knows it for the home it’s been to him for most of his career. From that other place inside, a whisper, he might not be able to find you here. When he locks up the place this time, it’s not to seek refuge elsewhere, but to give it.

He puts the Airbook and all its crap in the living room. It remains by his couch, unopened for two months. The shelves in his kitchen cabinets, in his freezer are ridiculously full of microwaveable popcorn and frozen breakfast burritos. All untouched. There’s still sweet and sour chicken in his microwave and a bag of stale popcorn on his kitchen counter.

Each morning of those sixty days, McClane wakes after a night of dreamless sleep, takes a moment to steel himself, before looking out of his bedroom window. And each morning it’s been the same story. A habit he can’t shake.

The orange bakery bench is always empty. He has no expectation that this morning will be different. Unfortunately, his hope won’t allow him to walk past his window without looking.

McClane actually pinches himself, twice. Then he’s standing in front of a Matt Farrell who looks like he’s been eating regularly and has regular access to hot water on tap.

“John.”

Matt throws his arms around McClane’s neck and holds on tight.

“The scientist wouldn’t tell me if you survived. I heard you screaming. I couldn’t stop, I had to keep going. I had to stop Gabriel. When I heard you scream...” Matt shivers in McClane’s arms. The detective tightens his hold around the waist of the man who saved the world.

“It’s okay,” McClane murmurs. “You’re here, I’m here. We both made it.” Matt disentangles himself. He gazes at McClane with bright shining eyes.

“Today is my birthday. I’m being born in Camden right now.” He reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a rolled up piece of paper. He hands it to McClane. For an instant, McClane thinks it’s Matt’s birth certificate. As McClane unrolls the paper, he sees that in a sense it is. Heavy deja vu washes over him.

“His parents won’t get murdered in front of him when he’s eight by assholes looking for food and a warm place to sleep. He won’t be in the house alone with the bodies for days before he realizes there is no help. That he is all alone in the world and on his own. His life won’t be shit.”

McClane pulls Matt back into a one armed embrace. His other hand holding fast to the piece of paper with Pardon calligraphied across the top.

“Yours won’t be either,” McClane promises. When the bakery employee shows up to unlock the door a few minutes later, he finds them still holding onto each other.

Fin