The One You're With

by Dira Sudis

Disclaimer: Neither John McClane nor Matt Farrell belong to me; I am (or at least try to be) merely an innocent bystander.

Beta thanks to Lamardeuse and Miss Molly Etc!

There's something important about the twenty-third, and it's been bugging him all damn day. He knows there's something he's forgetting--except there's nothing he's forgetting. Matt programmed all his important dates and deadlines into John's disturbingly over-powered new phone when he got it. He gets text messages now when he's supposed to give Jack or Lucy a call, and it's a little freaky but mostly pointless; John's usually pretty good with remembering dates and times. He's had practice.

He's walking from his shitty parking spot (serves him right for being late leaving the precinct) to his building when he sees a storefront with a handwritten poster up. WE HAVE ROSES! It clicks, and he's stepping inside, feeling proud of himself for remembering before he got home, and then he stops short.

It's Holly's birthday. It's Holly's birthday and it's been years since he bought her a present, or even called her to tell her happy birthday and he misses her and loves her and a lot of stuff that used to make her sigh quietly down the line. He's remembered the date every year--missed her, or felt shitty about not missing her much anymore, mostly. Never felt this. Never felt like there was somebody at home and he'd better bring her a present if he didn't want to sleep on the couch.

And there is somebody at home, but not Holly, not a her. Matt.

He stares blankly at the roses and lets the shock of it rush over him. Matt buys groceries and handles gadgets, Matt never did bother to find a place of his own even after he was back on his own literal and metaphorical feet. When John gets home on a night when he can still see straight and Matt hasn't put up a little Post-It note that says something cryptic but clear like in the zone do not disturb sorry, they're as likely to fuck as they are to sit around talking about their days. Some nights they even manage to fit in both.

But they've never really talked about what they're doing, and John knows it's mostly him who's not talking--like there's anything in the world Matt won't talk about, if it catches his attention. John's the old cop who used to have a wife and two kids. Matt's not old enough to remember when there weren't Pride parades. Matt's never watched decades of love and years of a shared life grind unstoppably down into nothing, into only thinking about maybe missing her on her birthday, in a crisis, when the kids won't talk to him.

"Anything I can help you with?"

John blinks, and the girl behind the counter is studying him, maybe amused, maybe wary. It's getting toward dusk, the streetlights are still hit-or-miss even in this mostly okay neighborhood, and she's alone in the store with a guy who's just staring into space.

John forces a smile and takes a step toward the display of flowers--there are roses, but only red and pink, and he can see spots on some of them from here. There are hardly any carnations. No daisies, but they do have irises; it's weird and random, the things that have become rare. Matt tells him stories about shopping some nights, about the strangely empty shelves at the grocery store, the comics that have gotten scarcer.

He doesn?t even know Matt's birthday. If Matt hasn't already programmed it into his phone, he'll probably talk about it incessantly for a week beforehand. But somehow John suspects that even if he were to forget it, Matt would never actually kick him to the couch. He'd laugh; he'd demand a ransom of action figures and a blowjob. He'd let it go.

Matt deserves better.

John clears his throat. "Actually, uh, yeah."

And why not, why not here, with this girl who works a block from where he lives and hasn't got the slightest fucking clue who he is, why not just try it out here before he actually throws himself on this grenade at home.

"I gotta get something for my boyfriend," he says, and she looks startled and then smiles, definitely not scared of him now. He adds, "I did something kinda stupid. Little thing, not..."

"Does he know about it yet?"

John grins, because she's smiling, because that was easy, stupidly easy, and if he can say it to a stranger how can he not say it to Matt?

"No," he says. "And, uh, I don't think he's much of a flowers guy."

"You mean you're not much of a getting-your-boyfriend-flowers guy," she says, and he can't really argue with that.

He's got a little white bag in his hand when he walks through the door, and he can hear typing as soon as he walks in. There's no light but the monitor-glow spilling out of what used to be his spare room. He checks carefully, but there's no Post-It on the doorframe.

Still, he knocks a little as he steps inside. Matt says, "Hey, one sec, I just have to--" and the typing pace picks up. John stands and watches, and doesn't let himself feel stupid.

Then Matt spins around his chair and stretches, smiling. He's rubbing his eyes as he says, "Whoa, it got dark, when did it get dark?"

"Here I thought you were being a responsible citizen and conserving energy," John says, wondering if Matt can even see the bag in his hand, blinded by staring at the computer screen.

Except Matt drops his hands and says, "Hey, what's that?"

John holds it out mutely and Matt frowns a little but takes it, turning halfway back toward his computer to let the light fall on the bag as he reaches inside and pulls out the little bamboo plant. It looks like a green stick in a jar of rocks, but the girl at the flower shop assured him that it was both cool and fairly hard to kill.

When Matt's not looking at him anymore, it's a little easier to say, "It's a present, what's it look like?"

Matt looks up, grinning, and says, "You got me bamboo? Happy Thursday?"

"Happy my ex-wife's birthday," he says, and the words come easily right when they probably shouldn't. Matt's forehead wrinkles, but he doesn't stop smiling.

John shrugs and says, "When I quit smoking I had to start chewing gum and find something to do with my hands when I was driving. Steering wheel drumming like crazy. I had to replace the habits, you know? And I'm good at remembering dates, I just..."

This is not actually what he meant to say, although he's not really sure what he did mean to say. Something that didn't compare Matt to Juicy Fruit probably would have been a good start. He's never been great with planning. Or talking.

Matt, weirdly, is still smiling. "Bamboo, awesome, do you think the living room gets enough light that it won't die? Wait, wait, it's from pretty dense forest regions, right? Should it be in shade? Are there instructions?" He peers into the bag and then says, "I can look it up. Did I say thank you? Thank you. Bamboo, man."

John stares at him, and then Matt stands up with the plant still in his hand. He stretches again, and when he settles onto his own feet--weight on both, John notices, because he's gotten used to watching for it--Matt says, "Hey, as long you don't get her presents on my birthday, we're good."

"Yeah," John says, leaning across the little space between them. "About that."

"You're going to be getting emailed links to my wish list starting one month before," Matt says cheerfully, and gives him a smiling, distracted kiss, the kind that felt like a dismissal from Holly and now kind of feels like he's in on the joke. "I'm going to have to put a grow light on there now if I want to keep this thing going through the winter."

John thinks about how he meant to make some kind of declaration, and then he thinks about the fact that Matt is figuring out how to keep a plant alive in this apartment for the next several months and figures maybe he actually doesn't have to say a word. Maybe Matt's already got this one figured out for both of them.

"Yeah," John says. "You do that."