Matt turns down the volume on the TV a little and cocks his head. Sounds like it's Lucy, on the phone. He can always tell, even though he can't hear the actual conversation; the patterns of John's tone give it away. By turns disapproving, lecturing, apologetic, frustrated, angry and back to apologetic again.
This time, there's an extended period of silence after the call ends. Matt starts to get up, in case it was bad news or something, when John returns with two more beers in his hand. He looks thoughtful, almost distracted, but not unduly troubled. Not his 'there's going to be violence' face. Matt sinks back down on the couch.
John pauses to kick Matt's feet off the coffee table, then hands him one of the bottles. Matt salutes him with it and takes a swallow. He reaches down and scoops up a handful of peanuts from the bowl on the floor, then realises John is still standing there, looking down at him with that thoughtful expression still on his face.
Matt swallows the peanuts, licks the salt residue from his fingers and puts his beer down. John's eyes follow his every move until he starts to feel self-conscious and sits up straight. 'John? What's up?'
'That was Lucy,' John says.
Matt waits, but nothing follows. 'Right?' he prompts. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe it was bad news. John is certainly starting to look a little... weird.
'She seems to think I'm... neglecting you. Any idea how she'd come up with that idea? Or say that I'm... what was it... oh yeah: 'in denial'?'
Matt stares at him for a long time while those words, the backstory behind them and the potential timeline in front of them, get processed.
He looks at his beer. His appetite for it has suddenly disappeared, but his throat is so dry he doesn't think he'll be able to do anything but squeak unless he gets some kind of fluid into it. He picks the bottle up and takes the last swallow of a condemned man.
Fortified, he opens his mouth to say something sensible and reasonable, something to smooth this whole misunderstanding over, and what comes out in a tumbling stream is, 'Who? What? She said what? Oh my God, Lucy, what are you doing to me? I mean, what I mean, is that I don't know, I have no idea, why would she say that? She's insane. Clearly, she's insane.'
John's eyes narrow a little. 'Watch your mouth, kid, that's my daughter you're talking about.'
Matt scrambles to his feet, because having John standing there looming over him is making his balls shrivel up and feel like they're trying to find a way back inside his body to hide. He nods frantically and closes his eyes. 'Of course, absolutely, and when I say insane I mean it in the nicest, most non-disrespectful way possible and oh God, please don't kill me.'
'I'm not going to kill you.'
Matt sneaks open one eyelid. 'You're not?'
John sits down, stretching his legs out. 'No. I might have to hurt you a little, though.' A frozen beat, and then the 'I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger' face cracks into a tiny grin. 'Oh, sit yourself down, you're making me nervous just looking at you.' He takes a mouthful of his beer. 'And you don't want to make me nervous, do you?'
Matt swallows hard. 'No,' he says. A little gingerly, he takes his place back on the couch.
They watch the game for a few minutes. Well, Matt faces in the general direction of the screen, anyway. He doesn't see much of what happens.
'So,' John says, his tone easy. 'You're gay, huh?'
More shrivelling. Matt crosses his legs. 'Um. Uh. She said that? Lucy?'
John nods, still apparently watching the football.
'Right. Well. Um. Maybe?'
Now, John turns to look at him. 'Maybe? You mean it depends? What on?'
Matt can't meet his eyes. He faces away, looking out the window. Visualises himself getting up and jumping out of it. This was a normal night. Just an ordinary, nothing special night. Football and beer at John's. How is he suddenly having this conversation?
He gropes for cool dignity, or as close to it as the rush of blood currently boiling under his skin will allow. 'I don't know what Lucy said to you, but it's not true. I do not have a thing for - I mean, I don't think of you, you know, like that.'
'Sure. Right. Whatever you say, kid.' John rests his beer bottle between his legs, drawing Matt's eye against his will. 'Pretty sure Lucy was wrong about me, too. Because I sure as hell can recognise 'in denial' when I see it.' He gives Matt a pointed look. Double-raised-eyebrow pointed.
Matt starts to splutter something incoherent. He has no idea what the words were intended to be, if he could have formed them.
John waves a hand airily. 'Don't sweat it, kid, it's no big deal.'
Matt just about manages to keep from hyperventilating. 'It's not?'
John shrugs and gestures down the length of his body, again forcing Matt's gaze to follow. 'Don't you read the papers? I'm a sex symbol. Prime beef. You don't think you're the only one to crave themselves a piece of this fine ass, do you?'
There's a hollow ringing noise in Matt's ears. He nods. 'Right, yeah, okay. That's fine. You want to make fun of me, you go right ahead. I'm pleased that you had such a good laugh at my expense. Glad to have been of service, Detective McClane.'
John's mouth twitches. 'I'd climb down from that high horse before you fall off, kid. It's a long way down, trust me.'
A sudden twist of pain makes Matt realise he's been clenching his fists, fingernails digging into his palms. He makes a conscious effort to relax, and manages to get his hands to obey. Unfortunately the rest of him doesn't seem so keen. He is going to kill Lucy for this. Well, give her a severe talking to, at least.
Over the static in his head and the painful rush of air in his throat, he gradually becomes aware that John is still speaking: 'Course, when I was your age, we didn't have none of this 'gay' business. It wasn't like you had to pick a side. Far as we were concerned, it was just a matter of waste not, want not.'
In the silence following that remark, Matt steals a look at him. 'Did you just say we?'
'You going deaf, kid?'
'No, no, I just - I mean, is that 'we' as in the cultural generalisation of the time, or 'we' as in, actual real people? As in, specifically, actual real people including you?'
John shrugs. 'Lot of guys all stuck together, in training, and not a lot of time for socialising. We improvised. Like I said, waste not, want not.'
Now it's Matt's turn to narrow his eyes. He might not have John's I-see-into-the-dark-heart-of-your-soul cop ESP, but he's always thought he was a reasonable judge of character. And he's been mocked enough over the years to have developed quite a finely honed instinct for it.
Logic and reason tell him that's what's happening here. It has to be, because otherwise John McClane is sitting
there as calm as anything, telling Matt that he used to - well, improvise. And that's impossible.
Impossible or not, the thought is now in his head. In his mind's eye, which has always been as large as a goddamn IMAX screen, he sees pictures of John, a younger John, in training - and Matt isn't even sure what that means, whether it's the army or some kind of cop school, but it doesn't matter, because the important associations are uniforms, and men together, and sweaty, physical exertions.
The IMAX, as so often happens, seems to have plugged its power source directly into his body, and he shifts a little on the cushion, his jeans suddenly feeling way, way too tight. He opens his mouth to take in air because he can't remember having breathed lately, and a small sound escapes him.
John leans back, resting his arm along the back of the couch. 'Not that everyone thought the same way, of course. We had this game we used to play with the new kids, New York Roulette we used to call it. You had to pick your mark and make your play, and see what you got. Pick the right guy - or be good enough - and you got some fun. Pick the wrong guy, and you got a punch in the mouth.' His eyes are half lidded and there's a small smile playing around the edges of his mouth. 'Those were the days.'
He lets his head fall to the side, onto his shoulder. 'Haven't played that game in a long time. But I guess it's like what they say - like riding a bike. You don't forget.' He waits a few seconds, then picks up the remote and turns off the TV.
Matt presses his lips together, trying to calm himself before the tension singing through his body vibrates him right off the couch. So: looks like he's the new kid, and New York Roulette is the only game in town.
He reaches for his beer - not sure if he actually wants a drink or just something to do with his hands while his mind spins - and knocks it straight off the table instead. The bottle doesn't smash, but white foam immediately bursts out the top and onto the carpet.
Matt jumps to his feet, a little 'oh' forcing its way through his lips, and grabs the bottle before it can spill any more. He stares at the carpet, dismayed, but John just glances at it and waves his hand. 'Leave it,' he says, and his eyes aren't half-lidded and far away any more. They're locked on Matt's with an intensity that has enough physical weight to knock him back a step.
On the IMAX, a giant Clint Eastwood is giving Matt an appraising glare. Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?
It's a good question. Does he?
John's moved his own beer onto the floor at the side of the couch, out of the way. His posture is still relaxed, his legs spread wide enough for Matt to kneel between them if he wanted.
If he wanted? Who is he kidding? He's heard the rules, he's picked his mark and he's ready to make his play.
And yeah, he thinks he's good enough.
Matt drops to his knees and settles himself into position, resting his hands on John's thighs. The denim is rough, the long muscles hard under his fingers. He lets his eyes travel upwards, and is rewarded with the knowledge that it's not just John's quads that are hard.
He licks his lips, and is further rewarded by a little huff of breath from John. It sounded involuntary, and Matt's taking that as first point scored. He strips off his shirt, drawing another little sound, and reaches for John's zipper. He smiles. This might be his first time at New York Roulette, but he has every confidence that he's going to be a winner.